The law covering juvenile delinquency in Korean society is a constant source of controversy. It is supposed to address teenagers who partake in antisocial behavior and is aimed at correcting their conduct. The goal is to help teenagers find their way back into society using appropriate treatment instead of criminal punishment. Children between the ages of 10 to 14 who violate criminal laws are prosecuted under protective laws and there is no permanent record of their criminal activity maintained. Instead of facing criminal punishment for violating the law, they receive community service, probation, a transfer to a reform school or are entrusted to a shelter. However, these days it seems the law is falling short of its original intentions due to the widening scope of crimes being committed by our nation’s youth. As a result, I think it is time for a revision.
|▲ Child in Jail (Photo from The Logical Indian)|
First, there has been a perceived increase in the number of cases of abuse of the protections awarded under the juvenile delinquency law. When teenagers as old as 14 commit violent crimes, their cases fall under the juvenile delinquency law, so minor penalties generally apply. Young kids are aware of the system and take advantage of it. They believe, it is okay to commit a crime because they are protected from severe punishment under the law. For example, 8 middle school students stole a rental car and drove it from Seoul to Daejeon. They caused a traffic accident killing a man in his 20s. The kids demonstrated a clear lack of empathy for their victim, proudly posting photos of the accident on SNS. Citizens were enraged and uploaded a national petition to the Blue House calling for the abolition of the juvenile delinquency law. Almost 3,000 people signed the petition. With no suggestions of remorse, it is clear these children are headed other for future offences. In fact, statistics show that the rate of secondary offenses for teenagers is 12.3%, but only 5.6% for adults. This means teenagers are more than twice as likely to reoffend than adults. Also, if teenagers are able to avoid a full investigation by police, any prior behavior offences are omitted from their trials.
|▲ Diagram of Juvenile Law (Photo from Naver Blog)|
Second, the law discriminates against the victim. It violates their fundamental rights. Human rights have ambivalent characteristics, so it is hard to protect victims as much as the teenagers causing the harm. However, it is unreasonable to pardon teenagers who commit heinous crimes just because they are young. The crime that they committed can ruin a victim’s life. Violent crimes such as kidnapping, murder, mob violence and voice phishing can ruin a person’s life, while the assailants get off, scot-free. This infringes on the fundamental rights of the victims, and if the law inflicts reverse discrimination, it should be revised. 11,958 rapists, 1,043 arsonists, and 116 murderers were commuted, despite the gravity of the felony. That is over 15,000 incidences of grievous harm. To better protect the victims, the law needs to be revised. We need to protect the victims, and part of this protection is ensuring them, their perpetrators will be punished. Ignoring their pleas for justice will only continue to add to the violence committed against them.
Finally, the law is no longer capable of fully reflecting its original intent. Article 1 of the law states, “The purpose of this Act is to ensure a healthy fostering of juveniles by carrying out necessary measures, such as protective dispositions, environmental adjustments, and character corrections of juveniles demonstrating anti-social behavior.” However, the lenient forms of punishment have actually helped stymie the rehabilitative nature of the legislation’s design. This means the main purpose of the law has collapsed. Unlike in the past, the range of social activities of teens has grown extensively. Access to SNS has opened up a platform for sharing opinions, and this has led to some teenagers destroying the reputation of others by spreading malicious rumors online. This has severely damaged the victims. In addition, school violence is increasing. As the types of crimes are diversifying, the severity level of the crimes committed are intensifying. The law must be changed to address these new forms of crime.
For these reasons, I think the juvenile delinquency law should be revised. Its lenient nature leads to repeat offences and impacts the victims beyond the crime itself. It also no longer reflects the original rehabilitative intent of the law because the range of crimes and severity of their actions being committed have increased. I believe the age of the juvenile delinquency law application should be lowered, and penalties should be increased. I am not advocating a discontinuance of the law completely, but rather a modification that will strengthen its application and efficacy, protecting the offender’s right to rehabilitation and the victim’s right to feel safe from the actions of their perpetrator. Teenagers who commit violent crimes should receive a criminal penalty that is appropriate for their actions. Moreover, we must remove the possibility of leniency where there is no sign of remorse. In the end, violent crimes are still violent, no matter how young the perpetrator happens to be. Therefore, the punishment must meet the crime. It is time to re-think the way we treat violent young offenders.