Some Chinese courts are now taking one's individual character into account in dealing with juvenile delinquency cases so as to protect the rights of youngsters and help put them back on the right track.
Evidence of character, commonly used in many other countries, especially in a number of developed nations, asks the courtroom to consider the family background, characteristics, and criminal record of the young offenders when deciding on a verdict, rather than deciding the case only on the facts of the crime.
"Allowing this evidence indicates concern and attention for young people in our society," said Zhu Yuguang, presiding judge of the juvenile courtroom of Nanqu Court in prestigious Qingdao City, a coastal resort in east China's Shandong province.
Zhu noted that his court was doing this to give the youngsters a chance to mend their errors and start afresh.
Qingdao City Intermediate People's Court is among the first courts to introduce the new system on a trial basis. Since 2001, they have incorporated evidence of character in dealing with more than 200 juvenile delinquency cases.
In June this year, the court heard a handset robbery case involving a 17-year-old. Investigation showed that the youngster had been a very good student in school, but had dropped out because of poverty in his home and later committed the crime for the same reason.
After discussing the case, the court decided to levy a 1,000-yuan (US$120) fine and put him in detention for three months. Previously, he would have been imprisoned for at least one year. When the final verdict was announced, the youngster sobbed, wept with remorse for the crime, and promised to turn over a new leaf and be a good citizen.
Rehabilitating, rather than punishing, has always been China's core principle in dealing with juvenile crimes. In 2001, the country put into force regulations on trying juvenile delinquency cases, encouraging investigating the youngsters' essential backgrounds and bringing the report to the court.
The rate of juvenile delinquency has been on the rise worldwide for the past few years, and China is no exception. Relevant statistics show that 10 percent of the country's penal offenders are juveniles.
The Qingdao Intermediate People's Court, for one, tried a total of 1,600 cases in the past six years, involving 1,900 juveniles aged from 14 to 18 years old. Analysis of these cases showed that most of the offenders committed minor crimes out of poverty or the pressure of gangsters and most of them were from problem families.
To better help these youngsters, the court set up a special juvenile courtroom and nominated lawyers for those who couldn't pay for one. For those young people whose families are in dire need, the court also paid for their relatives to come to the court to help enlighten and educate them.
Currently, evidence of character has only been adopted in misdemeanor cases, in which young offenders would be sentenced to less than three years of jail terms. Shanghai, Beijing and dozens of other large- and medium-sized cities around the country have adopted the new method.
"More and more regions will follow step, because it is the most efficient and effective way to help those juvenile delinquents who took the wrong path," said Zhu.
(Xinhua News Agency July 14, 2003)