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.

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

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.

CAI MENG / CHINA DAILY

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