With the number of juvenile criminals increasing from 33,000 in 1998 to an estimated 80,000 this year, juvenile crime in China has become a "grave" problem, experts said.
Two-thirds of the 4 million criminal cases annually handled by courts involved juveniles suspects, according to data presented at a seminar on juvenile crimes and judicial justice in Beijing yesterday.
"Crimes committed by youngsters have been causing a growing amount of severe social damage," deputy secretary-general with the Chinese Society of Juvenile Delinquency Research Liu Guiming said at the seminar.
"Offenders' average ages have become younger, and they are committing new types of crime and forming larger gangs. They even commit crimes without specific motives, often without forethought."
Some of the most common crimes are robbery, theft, intentional injury, rape, gang fighting, and provoking fights and quarrels.
But last year, the number of crime categories grew 22 percent from 2005 to more than 150 types, as offences including new forms of fraud and gang-related Internet crimes were added to the law books.
Liu attributed the increase in crime to "the influence of broken families, the depletion of school education and incomplete social management".
The growing number of migrant workers' children who are left at home, the growing number of youths infatuated with unhealthy websites and campus violence have all become urgent social problems.
Shang Xiuyun, a judge specializing in juvenile crime from Haidian District People's Court in Beijing, said research by her court found 59 percent of underage criminals come from broken families, and they usually experience indifference in personal relationships and even endure domestic violence.
"With major social transformations under way, children nowadays, who are usually single children, endure more pressure and pain, even though they are called 'emperors' and 'empresses' of the families, compared with when there were several children in each family in the past," Shang told China Daily.
According to the Chinese Law on Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, the Juvenile Protection Law and relevant judicial interpretations by the Supreme People's Court, juvenile criminal cases are subject to only a few special policies, such as ensuring closed trials and protection from capital punishment sentences.
To better protect juvenile rights, experts called for the establishment of substantive and procedural laws dealing with juvenile delinquency.
"Without such laws, it is meaningless to talk about judicial justice for the youth," Chen Ruihua, a renowned professor in criminal law with Peking University, said.
(China Daily December 5, 2007)