Juvenile Crimes, a Problem for All of Us to Solve
Juvenile Crimes, a Problem for All of Us to Solve
  • Yoon Kim Eunji
  • 승인 2022.05.02 09:56
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Scene from <Juvenile Justice>


"I heard that if you're under the age of 14, you won't go to jail even if you murder someone. Is that true? Awesome!" A 13-year-old boy in the recently released Netflix drama <Juvenile Justice> said this in court after luring an elementary school student into his home and brutally killing him. The 'Incheon Elementary School Student Murder Case,' the moniker of this case, and other various juvenile crimes in the drama are attracting social and political attention. And especially, the age at which juveniles cannot be punished even after committing crimes is under fire again.


Juveniles free from the judgment of law

The current Juvenile Act was enacted in 1958 to help young offenders with antisocial behavior grow up through protective or legal measures to adjust to their environment and alter their behavior. The ages of the young offenders are divided into youth under the age of 10, between the ages of 10-13, and 14-19. Young offenders under the age of 10 are not subject to protective measures or punishments at all. Criminal juveniles of 14-19 can be criminally punished, but the sentence that can be imposed on heinous crimes such as murder is limited to a maximum of 20 years. The juvenile offenders between the age of 10-13, that are under discussion, are said to not have criminal responsibility, even if they violate the criminal law, so they do not receive criminal punishment. It is possible for the family court to take 'protective measures,' such as sending them to a juvenile detention center or giving them probation. But the heaviest disposition that they can receive is protective disposition No.10, which involves being sent to a juvenile detention center for 2 years. In response to this protective measure, Chun Jongho, a presiding judge at the Daegu District Court, who has been in charge of the juvenile court for eight years, said, "The disposition period of No.10 is only two years, so the children are only waiting to leave the center."1) It seems that the current Juvenile Act, whose exemption from punishment can be legally abused, can induce juvenile crimes.
Moreover, the public is outraged at the attitude of the juveniles who commit sadistic acts without regret and about the unsolved juvenile crimes. In December last year, the mass assault case of middle school students in Yangsan that took place in July became known through a national petition. A first-year middle school student was assaulted by students of her age with her hands and legstied all night long. They filmed and distributed videos of the victim being assaulted in her underwear. 
This incident became controversial due to the police's poor investigation, and the number of petition signatures demanding severe punishment and disclosure of the perpetrators' identities exceeded 200,000. Due to this, the Ulsan District Court's Juvenile Court issued the No.9 juvenile protection disposition (short-term juvenile detention center) to the four perpetrators initially, but are investigation is underway, and the police have confirmed six additional charges. However, criticism was raised when the Blue House replied to the petition that the age of the perpetrators prevents the disclosure of personal information. According to the Court's Monthly Statistics Report, the number of juvenile cases handled increased by 56% from 7,665 in 2017 to 12,029 cases last year.2) On the other hand, the number of cases with perpetrators aged 14 to 19 being treated as criminal cases is steadily decreasing from 84,026 in 2017 to 55,846 last year. Compared to the decreasing number of crime cases by those between 14 and 19 years of age, crimes committed by juveniles aged 10 to 13 continue to increase, making the age standard of criminal minors a constant problem.

<strong>SCREENSHOT OF THE NATIONAL PETITION_Call for the punishment of mass assault on a middle school girl in Yangsan</strong><br>
Call for the punishment of mass assault on a middle school girl in Yangsan


Ways to strengthen punishment

As the age of juveniles tends to decrease and the number of cases increases, voices are getting louder that the scope of criminal punishment should be expanded by lowering the age limit of the juvenile law. Another reason is that the standards for juveniles established in 1953 do not match reality. Lawyer Noh Yoonho (Law Firm Sawol) insists, "First-year middle school students are usually 13 years old, but they become incomparably mature compared to elementary school students, and the probability of committing serious crimes increases. It is necessary to consider lowering the age limit of juveniles to 13."3) She responded positively to lowering the ages of criminal minors from 14 to 13. Recently, serious incidents of juvenile offenders abusing the juvenile protection system have become known and public opinion has continued to deteriorate. However, of the 39,694 juveniles over five years from 2016 to 2020 according to the National Police Agency's 'Status of Juvenile Deportation for the Past Five Years', only 5% committed violent crimes such as murder, arson, robbery, and sexual crimes. As a result, researchers emphasize that it is more important to deal with violent crimes that require severe punishment and lesser crimes separately. Seung Jaehyun, a researcher at the Korea Institute of Criminal and Legal Policy, stressed, "95% of juveniles who can be helped by protective measures should be given a chance to avoid a criminal record. If juveniles committing serious crimes need to receive protective measures, a separate juvenile detention center can be built by establishing a new disposition No.11 and No.12."4) Even in cases 
where strong punishment should be imposed, the most severe disposition is a maximum of two years in juvenile detention and can only be applied to those over 12 years of age, so it is pointed out that the scope of protective disposition should be expanded.
Due to the continued brutal juvenile delinquency, calls for the revision of the Juvenile Act have continued over the past few years. The first National Petition that exceeded the government's response requirement of 200,000 people after the inauguration of the Moon Jaein government in 2017, was the 'Call to Revise the Juvenile Act.' Kim Sanggon, then Minister of Education and Deputy Prime Minister of Social Affairs, announced that he would push for a plan to lower the age of criminal minors from under 14 to under 13, but it was abolished without crossing the threshold of the 20th National Assembly. Since then, several related bills have been proposed in the 21st National Assembly. According to the National Assembly Bill Information System on March 11, a total of 16 cases related to juvenile crimes were raised in the 21st National Assembly, of which four bills ask to lower the age limit. The rest focus on strengthening punishment for juvenile crimes, such as increasing the sentence for violent crimes or enabling the issuance of arrest warrants like adults. However, none of these bills has yet been dealt with. Recently, there have been moves from politicians and government authorities to punish juvenile crimes more severely. All major presidential candidates of the 20th presidential election pledged to lower the age of juvenile delinquents, and the president-elect Yoon Seokyeol announced that he would lower the age from under 14 to under 12. Also, he suggested considering exceptions to the application of juvenile law for serious crimes such as school and sexual violence. It is expected that there might be a change in the new government and that more discussion of juvenile crimes will be made.




The purpose of protecting juveniles

Among the background of juvenile crimes, neglect from families and society is considered the biggest problem. In 2019, six teenagers, including a 13-year-old student attending middle schoolin Cheongju, found an empty van with the engine on and drove from Cheongju to Anyang, Gyeonggi-do for four days. Most of the teenagers were in a situation where their families were fractured due to their parent's divorce, so they had not gone to school and moved on from friends' houses to shelters. These teenagers seemed to find comfort in each other. Similar to this case, running away from home often leads to additional crimes, and teenagers without financial means commit theft or fraud to pay for their living and entertainment expenses. In the book <Trial for Juveniles>, Judge Shim Jaekwang points to "impulsivity" and "repeatability" as the biggest characteristics of juvenile delinquency. When emotions such as anger and depression are expressed in the wrong way, it leads to repeated delinquency. Therefore, a social environment that can effectively protect the youth and support their emotions is needed. In addition to this, lawyer Park Insook from the Women's Human Rights Commission of MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, said "It is more important to closely examine the causes of the juvenile's crimes and the family environment they are in, rather than lowering the legal age for juveniles. The general principle 
of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recommends that the age of criminal minors should not be lowered below the age of 14."5) It is uncertain that lowering the age will be an effective prevention measure, and the law should focus on improving the environment to which adolescents are exposed. Also, the international community argues that caution should be kept when considering lowering the age limit.
Despite the importance of environmental adjustment, the infrastructure for juvenile offenders in Korea is insufficient. Delinquent juveniles experiencing hardship often commit crimes again when they return to their homes after receiving protective measures, but some youths change when sent to the facilities. Lee Ilhyeong, secretary-general of Sejinhoe, a corporation that operates the Sena Youth Recovery Support Center, said, "Because we take care of children as if they are with close family, we can increase interest in each individual. In general, the recidivism rate for children on probation is over 90% but the recidivism rate of children in the centers is less than 30%." One child at this center ran away from home in the fifth grade of elementary school and to make money she committed 'compensated dating fraud,' and was sexually harassed. Then she came to the center, and she said, "Now, in this center, I feel emotionally comfortable with a regular life."6) Protection facilities managed by courts have enough power to change children and can protect them. Therefore, the lack of facilities for rehabilitating juvenile offenders needs to be solved. Compared to Japan where there are 52 juvenile detention centers and 58 youth protection facilities (No. 6 disposal agency), there are only 10 and 12 of each in Korea. Under these circumstances, the minimum education required for adolescents, such as vocational training or studying, cannot be achieved stably. However, some changes are being made by the police. Up to now, the police have been manually collecting statistics related to juveniles, so professional analysis of crimes did not exist. To subdivide the crime name, age, delinquency history, and environmental circumstances of the juveniles, the 'Statistics for Juveniles in Custody' section will be added to the KICS (Korean Information system of Criminal justice Services). Through the change, it will be possible to understand the types of crimes juveniles commit and come up with related policies to improve their circumstances.


The last government's attempt to amend the law to lower the age of criminal minors


What decisions should be made?

It is natural to take responsibility for a crime. Given the brutality of the crime and the damage to the victims and their families, it is essential to make the juvenile offenders accept responsibility for their wrong choices. Therefore, the idea that juvenile offenders should be punished severely by strengthening punishment and lowering the age standards is getting attention. However, it is 
causing controversy in that it is not the right way to achieve the true purpose of the Juvenile Act. It is necessary for people to further discuss the fundamental reasons for juveniles' delinquency and find ways to prevent it.


1) Heo Jiwon, "Again 'Reducing the Age of Juveniles?' to Avoid Pointless Arguments", No CutNews, March 15, 2022

2) Oh Hyunah, "We Must Show How Scary the Law Is. The Ball Fired by 'Juvenile Justice' [OhHyunah's Court Instructions]", The Korea Economic Daily, March 5, 2022

3) Shin Minjeong, "How Was 'Juvenile Justice?'...Hearing the Reactions of the Legal Professionals", The Hankyoreh, March 3, 2022

4) Lee Yuji, "Lowering the Age of Juveniles? Abolition of the Juvenile Act? "Strengthening Punishment Is Not the Best Idea"", The Hankook Ilbo, March 23, 2022

5) Kim Sumin, "Re-Ignition of the Juvenile Detention Controversy..."A Strikeout System or Probation Rather Than an Ineffective Age Reduction"", Dailian, January 10, 2022

6) Heo Jiwon, "'Reorganization Is Impossible?' There Are Infinite Possibilities as They AreTeenagers", No CutNews, March 16, 2022

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