Criminal Responsibility of Juveniles

I. International Law on the Criminal Responsibility of Juveniles

There is a need to protect juvenile offenders from the harsh criminal system in the People’s
Republic of China. First and foremost, there are recognized international principles that touch on
criminal responsibility for minors and their necessary protection from the harsh penal systems.
There are various international instruments that establish the principles of international law on
the criminal responsibility of juveniles (Muncie, 2009) . These instruments include the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the United Nations Standard Minimum
Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice of 1985 popularly referred to as “the Beijing
Rules”; the United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency of 1990
otherwise referred to as “the Riyadh Guidelines”; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989.
The above-mentioned international instruments embody the core principles of international law
with regard to the criminal responsibility of juveniles. These core principles are:
1. The legalization of the minimum age.
This principle calls for the establishment of a minimum age below which a child shall be
presumed not to have the capacity to break the law. The age limit depends on each and
every state. However, the age level ought not to be set too low due to the intellectual,
mental and emotional maturity of the children. The Beijing rules provide
recommendations on the protection of juveniles in this regard. The Convention on the
Rights of the Child provides detailed regulations on the age of criminal responsibility for
minors. Article 40 (3) (a) provides that each state shall seek to promote the establishment
of a minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to
infringe the penal law (Shen, 2015) . What this implies is that children below the provided age limit are absolutely immune from the penal system. The UN Committee on the
Rights of the Children set 12 as the absolute minimum age of criminal responsibility
(Muncie, 2009) . There is an irrefutable presumption that a child below the age of 12 does
not have the capacity to commit a crime and therefore cannot be formally charged and
held responsible in the criminal justice system.
Further to the above, a child below the age of 14 cannot be deprived of his or her liberty
and as such only educational measures may be applied. This illustrates that international
law is essentially concerned with the best interests of children who have entered the
criminal justice system. It prevents them from being incarcerated at their tender ages.

2. The scope of criminal responsibility for juveniles should be strictly adhered to. This
implies that no one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or
omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national law at the time when
it was committed. Further, juveniles below the set age level ought to be exempted from
any punishment. Moreover, the member states should devise policies that discourage the
criminalization and penalization of minor crimes committed by children.

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3. The non-institutionalization and provision of appropriate principles of the criminal
responsibility for juveniles. First and foremost, the Beijing Rules provide that
conventional and punitive measures are not necessary and should be minimized. This
essentially imposes a requirement for member states to devise ways of dealing with
juvenile offender before resorting to formal court processes (Maher, 2005) . This is
advocated for as it is paramount to reduce the harm that may be caused to juveniles by imposing criminalization and punitive disposals such as custodial sentences. Secondly,
the member states should provide alternatives to the institutionalization of juvenile
offenders. Thirdly, it is recommended that the institutionalization of juvenile offenders be
the last resort and the same must be for the minimum period possible.

4. Juvenile offenders shall not be subjected to capital punishment and life imprisonment. It
is recommended that member states should employ educational measures and other
alternatives that focus on rehabilitation of the individual juvenile offender. International
instruments further recommend to member states to adopt welfare-based approaches that
are rooted in inquisitorial, adaptable, informal, need-oriented and child-special processes.

II. The National Law of China

The idea of child protection has been an essential issue for the People’s Republic of China. The
Law on the Protection of Minors and the Law on the Prevention of Juvenile Offending provide
the rules that must be adhered to with regard to children affairs (Shen, 2015) . Both statutes
address the underlying principles that are paramount to juvenile delinquency and crime in the
country. Notably, one of the statutes provides that educational measures should be employed in a
circumstance where a juvenile is in conflict with the law as opposed to the punishment which
should, in any case, be used as a supplement to the educational measures. The other statute
provides that measure that is to be adopted in dealing with juvenile delinquency must incorporate
education, early intervention/offender rehabilitation and rescue measures.
Notably, the Chinese system puts immense emphasis on the need for rehabilitation through
various ways such as the use of informal mechanisms, the role of the society and education as the initial point of interaction for juvenile offenders. This is designed to persuade and influence the
change of behavior of the said juvenile offenders. This approach is in tandem with the traditional
Chinese beliefs and the international principles enumerated above. For instance, in 2001, the
People’s Republic of China put into force regulations on trying juvenile delinquency cases.
Police officers are now required to investigate the juvenile’s backgrounds and thereafter report
their findings to court.
Evidently, there are other national laws of the People’s Republic of China which embody the
above-mentioned international principles (Barry Goldson, 2010) . The said principles are
embodied in statutes such as the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China, the Criminal
Procedure Law of the People’s Republic of China, the Law of the People’s Republic of China on
Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency and the law of the People’s Republic of China on Protection
of Minors.
First and foremost, Article 17 paragraph 1 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of
China provides the minimum age of the criminal responsibility for juveniles. The relative age
limit in China is fourteen years. However, sixteen is the age of full criminal responsibility
(Maher, 2005) . Secondly, the same article provides that lighter punishment should be provided
where a juvenile commits rape or other capital crimes. However, the said juvenile has to be
between the age of fourteen and eighteen. Further to these, juveniles who have been convicted
shall be institutionalized in juvenile centers as opposed to common prisons. This is a clear
example of how the People’s Republic of China grants protection to juvenile offenders. Thirdly,
it is provided that a juvenile offender shall not be convicted or punishment imposed without an
express stipulation of the specific law he or she has broken. Fourthly, juveniles are exempted
from capital punishment pursuant to Article 49 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. This embodies the core principle that juvenile offender ought to be subjected to lighter
punishment if found guilty. This leniency extended to minors and juvenile offenders is necessary
as there is a need to protect the rights and interests of the minors.
Further to the above measures, there are also formal and informal measures which are available
for children who have attained the age of criminal responsibility. With regard to the formal
measures, there are two options that are available, and they are; parental supervision order and
the order of shelter for rehabilitation by the state. There is no provision for punitive punishments
for children in China; however severe the offence may be as the said two formal measures are
devised to be educational.
For children that have reached the age of full criminal responsibility are essentially capable of
being subjected to punitive measures similar to those of adult offenders with the exception being
that the death penalty is explicitly exempted and cannot be applied to the juvenile offenders.
However, the principle punishments available to juvenile offenders include criminal detention,
fixed-term imprisonment, public surveillance and life imprisonment.
Further to the above, there are informal measures that ought to be employed with regard to
juvenile offenders. It is paramount to state that the informal measures are the most preferred
measures of punishing juvenile offenders in the People’s Republic of China (Liebman, 2011) .
For instance, there have been devised forms of community crime control programs which are
educational and are essentially devised to rehabilitating the juvenile offenders. The main aim of
the said programs is to monitor, assist and rehabilitate offenders. This is the most preferred form
of prevention mechanism for those juvenile offenders who have committed minor offences. For
instance, currently, character evidence has been adopted in misdemeanour cases, in which young
offenders would be sentenced to less than three years of jail terms. However, for those juvenile offenders facing prison sentences, this prevention measure is only used as a supplementary
corrective facility.

Further, in order to protect juvenile offenders from custodial sentences and other conventional
prevention measures, the People’s Republic of China introduced restorative justice. Restorative
justice aims at diversion and minimum intervention by providing solutions which juvenile
wrongdoers are dealt with outside legal institutions. As a result, juvenile offenders are kept away
from criminalization and punishment. For instance, the Chinese Court heard a robbery case
involving a 17-year-old. Investigation showed that the juvenile had been a good student in
school, who had dropped out due to poverty and which led him to commit the said crime. The
court fined him 1,000-Yuan ($120) and has was detained him for a period of three months. This
is a significant development as he would have been imprisoned for a term of one year or more.
Additionally, the newly devised suspended prosecution align with restorative justice principles.
This goes a long way to show how the People’s Republic of China has embraced the protection
of juvenile offenders.

Further to the above, there has been an amendment to the Criminal Law in the People’s Republic
of China. The amendments were adopted at the 19th session of the Standing Committee of the
11th National People’s Congress. The said amendments have added more leniency with regard to
the punishment of juvenile offenders. For instance, Article 6 of the said Criminal Law excludes
juvenile from the composition of recidivism. Article 11 provides that probation shall be granted
if the said criminal is under the age of 18 (Liebman, 2011) . Finally, Article 19 exempts juvenile
offenders from the duty of reporting their criminal record, all of which are the important contents of juvenile protection systems. The new amendments further contribute to China’s protection of
juvenile offenders.

III. Conclusion

Although the People’s Republic of China has not incorporated the Convention on the Rights of
the Child, it is clear that the international principles have been complied with. China has been at
the forefront in making sure that juvenile offenders are not subjected to the same treatment as
adult offenders. The country recognizes that children are young and are in need of protection
from the state and as such offending juveniles ought to be treated differently. Remarkably, child-
centered juvenile justice strategies continue to be developed in China where the criminal system
is generally seen to be very punitive in nature.

Despite several challenges, there has been a significant change in how the juvenile criminal
process is conducted. However, just like many other states, a lot needs to be done in order to
adhere to all the principles of criminal responsibility for juvenile offenders. There is also a need
to streamline the juvenile process by providing clear guidelines and policies on how juvenile
offenders should be treated in different circumstances. More particularly, there is a need to
ensure that there are clear policies with regard to the informal prevention mechanisms so as to
ensure that juvenile offenders are offered the best rehabilitation and educational services.



Barry Goldson, G. H. (2010). Sociological Criminology and Touth Justice: Comparative policy
analysis and academic intervention. New York : Criminology & Criminal Justice.
Liebman, B. L. (2011). A Populist Threat to China's Court? Cambridge University Press : New
York .
Maher, G. (2005). Age and Criminal Responsibility. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, 493-
Muncie, J. (2009). The United Nations, Children's Rights and Juvenile Justice . New York :
Shen, A. (2015). The Role of the Study Work-School: a Chinese case study on early intervention
and child-centred juvenile system. New York : Youth Justice.