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ARTICLE: Juvenile crime in Japan


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
Juvenile crime is on the rise in Japan. To such an extent that lawmakers felt compelled to pass revised laws imposing harsher penalties on young offenders. We want to take a closer look on that topic within the month of November and start by posting the article below from the Japan Times (Nov. 1, 2000):

Revised Juvenile Law clears Lower House

Age of criminal liability lowered to 14

A Lower House plenary session passed controversial legislation Tuesday to amend the Juvenile Law to impose harsher penalties on young offenders and lower the age of criminal liability.

The bill was supported by the tripartite ruling coalition as well as opposition members from the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party. It will now be sent to the House of Councilors.

Other opposition forces, including the Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party, opposed the legislation, saying the revision will undermine the spirit of the Juvenile Law, implemented in 1956, which attaches greater importance to protecting and rehabilitating juvenile offenders than punishing them.

The DPJ, meanwhile, was not united in its support of the bill. Some party members boycotted the day's session, expressing concern that the legislation, which imposes severer punishment, will not lead to a fall in juvenile crimes, as seen in Germany. They also questioned the need for harsher penalties against juveniles only.

Some legislators who support the bill called for even stiffer measures. They approved the bill, however, for the sake of early enactment to address public concerns over the issue. Others emphasized the need for the state to make improving the rights of crime victims its top priority.

To meet widespread public concern after a recent spate of heinous crimes committed by minors, the revised legislation lowers the age of criminal liability from the current 16 to 14, in accordance with the criminal code.

The legislation also stipulates that family courts would send serious juvenile offenders above the age of 16 to prosecutors to stand trial as adults.

Currently, this step is left to the discretion of family court judges, who deal with all juvenile cases. The judges, however, rarely resort to such measures, preferring to send offenders to reformatories or place them under probation.

According to opponents of the revision, trying people aged 14 or 15 and possibly sentencing them to imprisonment would run counter to the Constitution by depriving them of the right to receive compulsory education.

And if prosecutors are, in principle, to receive serious juvenile offenders above the age of 16 from family courts, this will effectively weaken the family court system as judges would be less inclined to prescribe rehabilitation measures for them, the opponents said.

To meet growing criticism over the way family courts handle juvenile criminal cases -- one judge per case without the presence of prosecutors and other outsiders -- the legislation also calls for prosecutors to be involved in trials if deemed necessary.

Host-nation support

The House of Representatives began deliberations Tuesday on provisions proposed by the ruling camp to the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement that would curtail Tokyo's host-nation support for U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan by some 3 billion yen annually.

The budget review, which was held before the current five-year agreement expires in March, was proposed by Tokyo amid the nation's snowballing fiscal debt.

The reduced figure was agreed upon by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and U.S. President Bill Clinton when the two met on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Okinawa in July.

Specifically, the budget cut will reduce the amount Japan shoulders in terms of the public utilities costs of the residences of U.S. service members, part of which will be in turn covered by the U.S. government.

A Lower House special committee on electoral reform and political ethics meanwhile began deliberations on bills to ban politicians from receiving financial benefits in return for providing political favors.

The ruling camp-proposed bill requires Diet members, mayors, governors, state-paid secretaries of lawmakers or members of local legislatures to serve a maximum three-year prison term should they receive profits in reward for exercising their political influence upon civil servants.

A counterproposal submitted by the opposition camp would subject private secretaries of lawmakers to the penalty as well.

Copyright © The Japan Times
lately, there are more and more minors committing murder and other serious crimes in japan. they don't realize what murder means and therefore do not feel guilty at all. however, they are aware of the fact that they are not going to be penalized as long as they are under 16. i don't mean that every child is like this, but a lot of them are exploiting their legal status.

they are evil, not like children anymore. if their parents cannot tell them what murder means, then they should learn about that in jail. i have no mercy with them. once they kill someone, they should go to jail however young they are.

if they are not able to find a different life in jail after having committed murder, they would continue to walk their criminal path. they should learn about what they have done, and how guilty they are. i believe it's possible only through jail. they should be treated the same as grown-ups. i agree with the new law.
ARTICLE: Juvenile Crime Laws Under Scrutiny

JAPAN: Juvenile Crime Laws Under Scrutiny

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Mar 11 (IPS) - A rise in the number of shocking crimes committed by children in Japan has sparked a national debate on whether to tighten existing laws that critics say treat juvenile offenses far too lightly.

On one side of the debate are those seeking a change in the current laws on juvenile offenders, pitted against those who say the rights of children should never be compromised.

According to the Association for Victims of Juvenile Crimes and its supporters, minors who commit heinous crimes should go through the same court proceedings as adult offenders.

Many lawyers and counselors, however, say such a move not only compromises the fundamental right of children to be protected, but may also work against the rehabilitation of the minor offenders.

At present, the cases of delinquents between the ages of 14 and 19 are handled in family courts, which do not have prosecutors and are closed even to the relatives of the victims.

Even when found guilty, minors are spared punishment under the Juvenile Offenders Law, which was enacted in 1949. According to the law, juvenile delinquencies are ''mistakes stemming from immaturity''. Thus, it says, government should do all it can to rehabilitate the youthful offenders.

Up until recently, few questioned the wisdom of the law. But it has come under attack of late as a result of a surge in serious crimes committed by minors in the last two years.

A white paper on crime released by the justice ministry shows there were 196,448 juveniles arrested in 1996, a 1.6 percent increase from the previous year. But what concerns many is the figure of 1,496 people taken in for serious crimes like murder, robbery and rape in that year.

In recent years, a number of high-profile cases of youth crimes have shocked the Japanese.

In 1996, six junior high school boys allegedly rolled up a mat around a classmate and allowed him to suffocate to death. Last year, a 14-year-old boy in Kobe strangled an 11-year-old schoolboy to death and then beheaded him. The teenager later confessed to two other previous killings.

In both cases, the guilty offenders ended up in juvenile reformatory institutions. No final sentence has been given on the Kobe youth offender.

The likes of Kazumitsu Take, whose 16-year-old son died after being attacked by another boy of the same age, are dissatisfied with the set-up that sends serious youth offenders to be reformed instead of put in jail. Take heads the organisation that is lobbying hard for changes in the Juvenile Offenders Law.

''The families of victims face heavy emotional torture,'' he says. ''But there is no way of getting rid of our grief and anger because nothing is disclosed to us. (In contrast), those who committed the crimes are fully protected by the law.''

Take and other critics of the Juvenile Offenders Law say it is outdated and no longer applies to modern society, where it is no longer entirely unusual to have a minor facing charges of murder or rape. Children who commit such violent acts, they argue, should be tried in ordinary criminal courts instead of being ''coddled'' in the family courts.

Some media organisations also seem keen to see some reforms in the law. In January, the respected weekly magazine 'Bunger Shunju' defied authorities by publishing detailed depositions of the Kobe case. Under the law, details of family court cases are not supposed to be released to the public in an effort to protect the future of the minors involved.

According to journalist Shinobu Yoshioka, the details were published so that the public may have a glimpse of the Kobe boy's frame of mind and background. This is important for understanding society better, he says.

But the Japan Bar Association is opposed to changes in the Juvenile Offenders Law. Lawyer Junko Ichibu, who has handled several juvenile cases, says tougher penalties for minor offenders may mean prison and isolation from society for many years. This, she says, may only result in recidivist behaviour.

Human rights lawyer Kazuyuki Azuzawa says Japan's support for the death penalty should deter anyone from suggesting that children be tried as adults. He adds that Japan must respect the rights of children to protection and rehabilitation. The only time children can be treated as adults, he says, is when they are given voting rights.

Reformatory schoolteacher Keiko Okuchi, meanwhile, suggests that the problem may lie not in the law but in the way parents bring up their children today. She says Japanese society does not nurture responsibility in children because they are not treated as individuals.

''Parents and teachers tell children that they know what is best for them and that is to study hard and have stable jobs,'' says Okuchi. ''But this is not what children want, and the stress that piles up on them is tremendous.''

Recently, she says, a survey was done among students in junior high schools in Kanagawa, a Tokyo suburb. When asked whether it was right or wrong to assault their parents, almost 18 percent of those polled said they did not know, indicating tension in the family, if not resentment against the parents.

Okuchi says many of her students have told her that they understand the emotions of the children who resort to stabbing their elders or teachers, and say this is because adults do not really listen to them. (END/IPS/AP-HD-PR/SK/CB/JS/AN/98)

Copyright © World News
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