Matching response to crime level will help correct children, prosecutors say
Chinese prosecutors will clarify offense levels in crimes committed by juveniles to properly align punishments with the severity of the criminal acts, the nation's top prosecuting authority said on Tuesday.
The work plan of the Supreme People's Procuratorate for 2018-22, which it posted on its website, also vowed to take innovative steps to prevent such crimes.
The plan said the levels of offenses by juveniles will be classified, and offenders will be punished in line with the prescribed levels.
It also said consideration is being given to setting up a database of people with a record of harming children.
"Juveniles are our future. Keeping them from harm and offering them a safe environment to grow up in is our duty," the top procuratorate said.
It said it will continue to dispatch prosecutors to schools to explain the law and help children better understand how minor offenses can become crimes, as well as how to protect themselves against predators.
Wang Jingyuan, a prosecutor responsible for handling juvenile-related cases in Beijing's Dongcheng district procuratorate, welcomed the plan. She said the new measures are necessary and will help prevent crimes by juveniles.
"Juvenile offenses are in urgent need of classification, as the level relates to the punishment an offender should receive," Wang said. "The more accurate the punishment is, the easier it is to correct young people."
She said more attention is often paid to rectifying juveniles' behavior after they commit crimes, "but we often ignore children who commit minor offenses or illegal acts at an early stage, let alone help them through correction."
In December, the case of a 12-year-old boy who was sent back to school in Hunan province after killing his mother sparked public concern.
"But under the Criminal Law, we couldn't do anything, as it sets 14 as the statutory age for criminal liability," Wang said.
The boy was eventually placed under the joint guardianship of his family, the public security department and educational authorities, because he is too young to be sent to juvenile disciplinary facilities that hold young offenders between 14 and 17.
"If the levels of juvenile offenses are classified, such problems, I believe, will be solved," Wang said. "Some new punishments, such as community correction or voluntary labor, can be designed and applied in line with the offense level and age."
Pi Yijun, director of the Youth Crime and Justice Research Center at China University of Political Science and Law, said: "It is essential to make distinctions between small mistakes, minor offenses and crimes when we are dealing with children's problems. The earlier we clarify the problems and take corrective steps, the more effective it will be for us to prevent children from committing crimes."
Both experts said the levels of classification will take some time to develop, as the issue needs more study by the authorities.
"So, before that, every juvenile-related department, especially schools, should strictly carry out their own rules," Pi said.
For instance, when a school finds a student is cutting classes or beating classmates, "it must take urgent steps to punish him or her in a timely manner to prevent such behavior from becoming serious", he said.