Too young to be criminal

Updated: 2013-12-18 08:04

By He Na in Beijing and Zhang Chunyan in London (China Daily)

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Emotional attachments

A 2011 survey conducted by the People's Public Security University of China showed that the average age at which adolescents begin to commit crimes is 12.2 years. Before the age of 12, most children still display heavy psychological attachment to their families, especially their parents, so problems are usually confined within the family circle.

The rise of juvenile delinquency in China, especially in cases of cruelty, has resulted in a small number of legal professionals calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be lowered. However, most legal experts believe that the existing laws are sufficient.

The United Nations' Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice clearly state that in legal systems that recognize the concept of a juvenile age of criminal responsibility, that age should not be set too low given children's emotional, mental and intellectual maturity.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility varies from country to country. In Switzerland it's 7, while in the UK it's 10. In Holland children are held to be responsible for their actions at age 12, while in France it's 13, and 14 in Germany.

In China, children under 14 are immune from the law, but for those with serious problems, the government can hire psychological assessment agencies to formulate a five to 10 year assessment and correction plan. At the end of that period, if the child is assessed as being normal in comparison with other children of the same age, the program is terminated.

Zhao Sanping, director of Beijing Guangheng Law Firm, who specializes in criminal cases, was shocked when he read about the case in Chongqing.

"I believe it's an isolated case. The age of criminal responsibility is based on the average intellectual level and mental maturity of children in each specific country. The law is there to protect the interests of the majority and can't be changed because of one or two isolated cases," he said.

"If the age of criminal responsibility is set too low or if there is no lower age limit at all, the notion of responsibility will become meaningless. The setting of the minimum age should emphasize the social compassion behind the law, and not punishment," he said.

Zhao explained that many foreign countries have very strong community networks and social workers play an important role in the correction of juvenile crime: "We have many communities in China, but the community networks are still underdeveloped. We simply cannot copy other countries' experiences."

Too young to be criminal 

Doctors performed brain surgery on Xinyuan on Monday, but the boy will have to remain in the hospital for the foreseeable future. Provided to China Daily 

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