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UPDATED: January 20, 2014 NO. 4 JANUARY 23, 2014
Justice for Juveniles
Scholars call for a distinct juvenile justice system to increase delinquents' chances of rehabilitation
By Li Li

Hong Daode, a professor at the Beijing-based China University of Political Science and Law, told local newspaper Beijing Times that such stipulations need to be amended, as parents or guardians may not be capable or qualified to correct their children. He suggested that relevant government departments or certified organizations conduct overall appraisals of these guardians before giving their children back to them.

Hong said that the government didn't have the financial resources to run such programs in the past and this situation should be changed as the country has become richer.

"If parents are evaluated as being incapable of raising their children, they should no longer be allowed to be guardians," Hong said. He added that both young offenders and their parents should be re-educated and there should be community programs for these parents.

Meanwhile, the efficacy of government-run corrective facilities for teenagers has been questioned.

Wu Bin from Beijing's Chaoyang District People's Procuratorate conducted a follow-up survey on juvenile delinquency cases handled by his organization during 2003 and 2004 and found that 47.5 percent of juveniles sent to corrective facilities committed crimes a second time during probation.

In his report, Wu noted that cross-contamination of criminal inclinations is common in juvenile corrective facilities, which can exert profound negative influence on those sent there for impulsive offenses and increase their risk of becoming chronic, long-term offenders.

Another study of juvenile delinquency cases that was carried out in Beijing's former Chongwen District, now part of Dongcheng District, between 2003 and 2006 found that many of the offenders that had been discharged from corrective facilities committed crimes within two to three months after their release.

Meanwhile, the scope of applying compulsive correction to young offenders has been narrowed. According to the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency that came into force in 1999, before sending a minor to a reformatory school for correction, cure and re-education, an application is to be filed by a parent, guardian, or the school where he or she originally studied, and be subject to the approval of the education authority. In the past, the police possessed the power to send a child or teenager with problematic behavior to these schools.

Immature justice system

Legal experts also complain that China operates one of the least mature juvenile justice systems among the world's major economies. China's first juvenile court was only established in Shanghai in 1984. The first juvenile court in the United States had already been established in Illinois in 1899, nearly 100 years prior.

According to the Supreme People's Court, China's highest judicial body, the country had more than 2,300 juvenile courts by July 2011, which employed around 7,400 judges.

Led by the courts, the various criminal justice organs have been gradually developing specialized departments to handle juvenile cases, with personnel who are trained to work with juveniles and are aware of their special vulnerabilities and legal rights.

China's amended Criminal Procedure Law, which was adopted by the top legislature in March 2012, introduces a number of positive measures, including the creation of a new chapter on procedures for juvenile crime cases.

Special concessions are included for when a juvenile suspect or defendant has not appointed someone to carry out their defense in court, he or she is entitled to an attorney assigned by a legal aid organization. Investigators should generally allow an offender's parents or guardians to be present at interrogations and prosecutors may grant conditional non-prosecution to juveniles who have committed minor crimes. Also, where an offender is under the age of 18 at the time of a crime and is sentenced to imprisonment of less than five years, relevant records of the crime are to be sealed.

However, scholars studying juvenile justice are not satisfied with the situation in China. At a seminar on the relationship between preventing juvenile crimes and the amendment of the Criminal Procedure Law in April 2012, Professor Yao Jianlong at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law said that the chapter on procedures for juvenile crime cases in the law "failed to adopt the core values of modern juvenile justice system and continued a penalty centric view."

"The focus of the modern juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate juveniles, rather than to imprison and punish them," Yao told newspaper Southern Weekly. He added that law enforcement organs under China's current justice system have only two choices when it comes to delinquent juveniles: punishing them or letting them go.

"We are creating hardened criminals that we will have to deal with again in the future," Yao said.

"Our regulations on juvenile crimes, whether under the Criminal Law or Criminal Procedure Law, are nothing more than juvenile versions of laws for adults," said Tong Lihua, Director of the Special Committee for Child Protection under the All China Lawyers Association. In a commentary article on the infant-abuse case by the 10-year-old girl in Chongqing, he wrote that while children are the focus of every family's attention, they don't get enough attention from society.

Like many scholars, Chen Hongguo, a senior research fellow at the Northwest University of Politics and Law in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, looks forward to the promulgation of a law dedicated to juvenile delinquents in China. "China's legal framework has room for improvement in this regard, like in many other areas, but we understand that it takes time," Chen said.

Email us at: lili@bjreview.com

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