Teenager's killing puts juvenile crime back in the spotlight

Legal experts raise questions over effectiveness of intervention, rehabilitation efforts

By CAO YIN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-04-24 07:04
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A show is held in Shijingshan district of Beijing to make minors aware of school bullying and other campus problems. The poster on the wall says "Let's join hands to say no to school bullying!" CHINA DAILY

A recent case in which three boys have been held on suspicion of killing their classmate has shocked the country and put the issue of juvenile crime in the national spotlight once again.

On March 10, the victim, a seventh-grade student surnamed Wang, was allegedly killed in Feixiang district of Handan, Hebei province. The next day, three suspects surnamed Zhang, Li and Ma, whose ages range from 12 to 14, were detained by police, according to a statement released by the provincial authorities.

The body of Wang, 13, was found buried in an abandoned vegetable greenhouse in the district's Zhangzhuang village, about 100 meters from the home of one of the suspects, media outlets reported.

After a preliminary investigation and autopsy, Li Yafeng, an official from the district's public security bureau, told China Central Television on March 18 that it was a "premeditated crime", and "no evidence was discovered that indicated the involvement of adults in the offense".

The suspects dug a hole in the greenhouse on March 9 and 10 to bury the body, Li also alleged.

News of the killing went viral on social media platforms, sparking huge debate and widespread outrage over juvenile crime, especially cruel and severe acts committed by minors.

China's top procuratorate, in line with the Chinese Criminal Law, recently approved the prosecution of the three minors.

However, some stakeholders such as legal professionals, have expressed their concern about the effectiveness of the rehabilitation of young offenders, and called for relevant professionals to become more involved to rectify the long-term behavior of such offenders.

Although minors, the suspects are expected to be held criminally liabile.

Details of the prosecution and how it will be handled were disclosed by the Hebei Provincial People's Procuratorate in a statement released on April 8.

District police handed the case over to local prosecutors on March 21 to decide whether the suspects should be prosecuted, the statement said. After reviewing the case, the prosecutors concluded that the three minors should be held criminally responsible as the suspects all met the legal age threshold of criminal liability, and the circumstances of the killing were severe.

China's age of criminal liability was lowered to 12 on March 1,2021, when the amended Criminal Law took effect.

Since then, children aged 12 to 14 can be held criminally liable for intentional killing by extremely cruel means, or for intentional injury that leads to death or severely disables others. However, the law also stresses that the decision to prosecute must be approved by the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

Before the amendment, the age of criminal liability was 14 to 16, and children could be held responsible for committing serious and violent offenses, including rape, robbery, intentional injury, and intentional homicide.

"The adjustment in age was made considering new situations and problems with juvenile delinquency," said He Ting, a law professor at Beijing Normal University. "Lowering the threshold to 12 in special circumstances has provided a legal channel to fight severe offenses committed by very young individuals."

Zhao Li, a criminal lawyer at Beijing Jingsh Law Firm, highlighted the significance of special and stringent circumstances under the law. "They indicate that Chinese judicial authorities are still prudent when dealing with juvenile offenses," he said.

This prudence is reflected in the fact that the provision only applies to suspects between the ages of 12 and 14 who commit either intentional homicide or intentional injury, and the consequences of the offense must be serious, Zhao said.

"The law also gives the SPP the right to determine whether to continue the judicial process, which is also an indication of the careful handling of crimes committed by the very young," he added.

Imposing penalties is the last resort in combating juvenile offenses, as the problem cannot be resolved solely by punishment, both He and Zhao said.

Combating juvenile crime is a complex and systematic job that demands varying levels of intervention, corrective measures and prevention of juvenile delinquency, they added.

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