|A student bleeding after being beaten. (https://m.ilyo.co.kr/?ac=article_view&entry_id=348443)|
These days, the internet is buzzing over the ‘Suwon Karaoke Assault Case’. A video titled ’Middle School Students’ Gang Violence’ was released on social media and has created quite a stir. The video shows an elementary school girl with a nosebleed, her face covered in blood, in a karaoke room being bullied by several middle school girls. It also shows a female student in the karaoke room, who appears to be a friend of the victim’s age, beating the victim’s forehead with her palm. Even during the assault, a male student is shown singing. The public reacted with anger, and a petition has been posted on the Cheong Wa Dae petition board calling for the strict punishment of the perpetrators. This is not the first time that a petition concerning juvenile delinquency has been posted on the bulletin board of the presidential office. The first petition on the board was a petition regarding the increase in the number of cruel teenagers who abuse protection laws. Since then, a number of petitions have appeared regarding students violence and bullying.
Korean children aged 10 to 14 are classified as ‘juvenile criminals’ who are not subject to criminal punishment even if they commit crimes. This juvenile protection law was enacted to give protection to delinquent children. However, voices opposing the law have increased. This is because even young children can be guilty of severe crimes and have a high chance of reoffending.
How do other countries apply juvenile law? In the United States it varies from state to state, but generally strict laws are applied to juvenile criminals. In particular, if a minor commits an atrocious crime such as murder, he or she is often tried and sentenced as an adult. In 35 states there are no age restrictions on criminal punishment, but in the rest of the states juvenile law protects those in the age range of approximately six to ten. Under U.S law, most states prohibit the criminal prosecution of anyone under the age of seven, and by the age of 14 they can be prosecuted if criminal intent and evidence are certain. Those aged 14 or older can be prosecuted as adults and can be punished with up to life in prison.
There is an ongoing debate whether juvenile protection laws should be abolished or not. Those who support juvenile protection laws say, “There have been many bad crimes committed, but many teenagers who have committed such crimes are often exposed to violence and abuse at home. We should not abolish the juvenile protection laws, but try to improve their home environment.” Conversely, those who insist on abolishing these laws say, “Since the punishment of juvenile delinquency is so lenient, juvenile criminals abuse the system and commit crimes again. It is a vicious cycle that doesn’t protect the victim. Instead, the victim has to hide to protect themselves.”
Only around 5 percent of juvenile offenders actually commit violent crimes. So if stricter punishment is implemented for the majority of juvenile offenders, those who commit minor crimes would face stricter punishment too. It is time to consider what is the most appropriate solution. In addition, juvenile offenders often start with minor misconduct and gradually build up to more serious criminal behavior. Stopping this behavior requires active intervention in the early stages of misconduct. An African proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child. One individual’s sole efforts will not easily solve the problems that many youth are currently facing. If families, schools, and society are interested in helping and guiding these teenagers, they will see a bright future.
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