Little imps should not be running free in society
Sticking to a concrete age may be convenient for law enforcement but may lead to unfairness in some cases.
Juvenile delinquency has been on the rise in recent years. For instance, last month, a 13-year-old boy in Cenxi, Southwest China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, reportedly killed three boys younger than him in his village. But he escaped criminal punishment because he was below 14 years, the minimum age for criminal prosecution in China. And in June, a 13-year-old boy set his 24 year-old teacher, surnamed Yang, on fire in Jinchuan county of Southwest China’s Sichuan province just to rob her of her iPhone. He, too, was released despite Yang suffering severe burns.
Thanks to social progress and the advancement of the internet, many children below 14 years of age are emotionally and intellectually mature and therefore should be held responsible for their actions. This is partly corroborated by the latest Draft of General Principles of Civil Law, which proposes to reduce the age for civil responsibility from the age of 10 to 6.
The minimum age for criminal responsibility in different countries ranges from 6 to 18 years, which means there is room for reducing the age for criminal responsibility in China.
However, some scholars disagree. First, there are no systematic statistics or studies on the crimes or violent actions committed by children below 14. Sowe cannot conclude that more and more adolescents are committing serious crimes.
Second, many empirical studies overseas show that reducing the age for criminal responsibility creates new problems, such as cross contamination and “labeling”.
Third, reducing the age of criminal responsibility would be against the conservative principle of criminal law, which says penal punishment should not be resorted to if alternative measures are available.
Fourth, civil responsibility is different from criminal responsibility, because the former can be transferred or substituted while the latter cannot, and the punishment for a crime is very severe and often comes with a lifelong stigma. Hence, the change in the age for civil liability should not necessarily lead to a change in the age for criminal responsibility.
But despite the focus of juvenile justice on rehabilitation, proper punishment is also necessary. We cannot conclude that the age for criminal responsibility should be reduced to 12, but we could and should improve the existing rules.
In China, if children below 14 commit violent offenses, their parents or custodians are required to pay civil damages. In some cases, the children are sent to a juvenile correction center but more often than not they are sent back home without receiving any punishment. Some of those children even become perpetual offenders because they don’t receive appropriate corrective measures after committing the first offence.
According to the theory of criminal law, a person without enough capacity to identify and control his/her actions cannot be held criminally liable. A child below the age for criminal responsibility is presumed to not have the emotional, mental and intellectual capacity to commit a crime. Sticking to a concrete age may be convenient for law enforcement but may lead to unfairness in some cases.
The lawshould be made flexible on this subject by, say, introducing the principle of malicious intent vis-à-vis age. It means, if a child below the age for criminal responsibility commits an offense with substantive maliciousness, he/she should be treated as a person with full capacity to realize the consequences of his/her actions. Substantive maliciousness can be reflected in a child’s intent and action, and the severity of its outcome.
Of course, strengthening penalty is not the panacea for juvenile delinquency. Many studies show poverty, parental divorce and/or domestic violence generally lead juveniles toward violence; overexposure to violence and sex on the internet, too, could have the same effect. Therefore, teachers and parents must make efforts to provide a healthy environment for children so that they understand social relations and do not commit serious offenses. The author is a judge at the Shunyi Court in Beijing.
The Germanywe see today has grown out of the rubble ofWorldWar II and has remained committed to global peace. On the economic front, Berlin’s forward-looking strategy of Industry 4.0 vision is visionary and successful. It has entered into partnership with Beijing to enrich and further develop Industry 4.0 to cash in on internet technologies and revolutionize the real economy. Germany, in fact, has been one of the rareWestern industrial powers willing to share its high-tech expertise with China. Of course, China too has lots of experiences to share in return.
When G20 leaders gather for Hangzhou summit, they will experience firsthand how this ancient city has modernized while maintaining its traditional charm and historic significance over the past three decades. In fact, many Chinese cities have undergone such a transformation in the same time.
Moreover, China has lifted millions of families out of poverty over the past three decades and has vowed to eradicate absolute poverty by 2020. And through its Belt and Road Initiative, it has become the first G20 economy to offer a tangible way of boosting global economic growth by breaking, rather than building, barriers.
But China still faces challenges in transforming its development pattern, bridging the widening wealth gap and offering equal livelihood opportunities to its citizens to become a socialist market economy.
Germany that relies on its own model of social market economy by focusing on competitiveness and social inclusiveness has become an example for China. The governments of the two countries have established a consultation mechanism with nearly all of their cabinet ministers taking part in discussions and sharing their experiences.
So if the agenda-setting process of the G20 summit allows, Beijing should organize a session on the economic development models of Germany and China. Perhaps the G20 leaders attending theHangzhou summit should take a tour of Zhejiang province, or take a ride on the high-speed train to Shanghai or Beijing to experience the positive changes brought about by China’s economic development.
AndwhenHamburg hosts the next G20 summit, the participants could venture out into the city to learn from the practices ofGermany to revive theirowncountries’ economies and offer their peoples a better life.