China has lowered the age of criminal responsibility and intensified correctional education by amending two laws in a move to prevent serious offenses committed by the very young and better rehabilitate them.
The amendments to the Criminal Law and the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency were adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the country's top legislature, on Saturday.
The country has witnessed frequent serious and violent crimes by the very young in recent years, triggering public concern.
The amended Criminal Law, which will take effect on March 1, stipulates that the age of criminal responsibility is 16, with those aged between 14 and 16 to be held criminally liable if they commit serious violent crimes, including intentional homicide, intentional injury, robbery or rape.
It also says that children aged 12 to 14 should be held criminally liable for intentional homicide or intentional injury that leads to death or severely disables others by extremely cruel means. Such prosecutions will need to be approved by the Supreme People's Procuratorate.
In simple terms, the revised law lowers the age of criminal liability to 12 in special cases to prevent serious offenses by the very young, said Wang Aili, an official from the NPC Standing Committee's Legislative Affairs Commission.
Juveniles under the age of criminal liability who commit other crimes will be exempted from criminal punishment.
"But it doesn't mean we'll ignore them or leave them alone," Wang added.
The revised law says such young offenders should be controlled by their parents or guardians, or given special correctional education if needed.
Guo Linmao, another commission official, said the amendment to the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, which will come into force on June 1, makes stipulations on such special correctional education, aiming to better manage children convicted of crimes who are exempt from criminal punishment.
It demands provincial-level governments include the building of special reform schools in their economic and social development plans, and requires governments above the county level to set up special educational committees to guide the work of such schools.
Education and public security departments can send young offenders to the schools for special correctional education under a closed management system after getting evaluation and approval from the committee, the amended law said.
Public security organs and judicial authorities will be responsible for correcting the behavior of young offenders sent to the schools, while education departments will be tasked with offering lessons and helping them study, it said.
"We wanted people from more walks of life to care for children by amending the law in this way, as children are the future and hope of each family and our country," Guo said. "Considering juveniles' mental immaturity and poor self-control, we cannot manage them only through punishment."
He said education is a priority and highlighted the importance of correction in rehabilitating young offenders, calling for the special reform schools to not only offer law education and corrective aid, but to also help them finish their studies and learn basic life skills to ensure they can get back on the right track.
Given that the amended law will come into force in less than six months, Gao said governments above the county level should establish the committees as quickly as possible and clarify evaluation procedures to make sure the law will work effectively in practice.