The World of Chinese - - Editor's Letter -

In the last sev­eral years, ju­ve­nile delin­quency has been on the rise, and as it ap­pears more fre­quently in the public eye, the types of crimes have be­come more di­verse. The crim­i­nal meth­ods are so­phis­ti­cated, and the ex­tent of vi­o­lence is in­creas­ing. In view of such a sit­u­a­tion, there is a groundswell of sup­port for the idea of low­er­ing the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity. Sup­port­ers think that it acts as a de­ter­rent while op­po­nents think it en­larges the scope of the law and la­bels kids as crim­i­nals.

In May 2016, the Supreme Peo­ple’s Procu­ra­torate gave their an­swer: A de­crease in the age for crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity will re­quire wide-scale ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and re­search. That’s def­i­nitely a cau­tious state­ment. But the leg­is­la­ture will even­tu­ally have to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion—to de­crease or not? From a util­i­tar­ian per­spec­tive, de­creas­ing the age of crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity can act as a de­ter­rent on ju­ve­nile crime in the short term, but as the law and the study of crim­i­nol­ogy de­velop, there are no clear statis­tics that show a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive cor­re­la­tion be­tween de­gree of crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity and amount of un­der­age crime.

But that doesn’t mean that the age of re­spon­si­bil­ity can’t or shouldn’t be de­creased.

Be­cause it’s nec­es­sary for Crim­i­nal Law to be just, it’s nec­es­sary to de­crease the age of crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity for se­ri­ous crimes. Crim­i­nal leg­is­la­tion should pay at­ten­tion to both the ac­tor and the crim­i­nal act. From the per­spec­tive of the ac­tor, mi­nors merit spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tions as they are im­ma­ture phys­i­cally and men­tally. But seen from the crim­i­nal act and its con­se­quence, un­der­age crim­i­nal be­hav­ior vi­o­lates the law just the same as adult be­hav­ior. To­day’s mi­nors, who are ma­ture at an early age, should take crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity so that the prin­ci­ple of “the pun­ish­ment fit­ting the crime” can re­ally be achieved.

When we talk about un­der­age crime, we can’t just fo­cus on ed­u­ca­tion and re­form. Ac­tu­ally, crim­i­nal penal­ties are a form of ed­u­ca­tion—which can also pre­vent crime. We shouldn’t take pun­ish­ment and pre­ven­tion as op­po­sites.

As for the “side ef­fects” of de­creas­ing the age of crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity—like life­long stigma or dif­fi­culty rein­te­grat­ing into so­ci­ety— we are not with­out so­lu­tions. For ex­am­ple, Ar­ti­cle 100 of Crim­i­nal Law states that any per­son who is given a crim­i­nal pun­ish­ment shall, when join­ing the army or get­ting a job, re­port truth­fully whether they have ever been crim­i­nally pros­e­cuted and shall not con­ceal the fact. But when it comes to crimes com­mit­ted as mi­nors, the obli­ga­tion of re­port­ing is dis­charged. Com­mu­nity reg­u­la­tions and the care­ful procu­ra­to­rial and trial work on un­der­age crime all pro­vide pro­ce­dural pro­tec­tion for mi­nors who have en­tered the jus­tice sys­tem.

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