Under the current law, a criminal minor refers to a teenager who is between 10 and 14 years old at the time of the crime. Recently, there are voices that crime is becoming more brutal as adolescents develop physically faster than in the past and are exposed to the media more frequently.
The key reason for insisting on lowering the age of criminal minors is that juvenile delinquency is becoming more brutal and increasing. However, according to the National Police Agency's data on juvenile crimes over the past 10 years (from 2012 to 2021), the number of teenagers in the age of criminal minor has decreased by about 23% over the past 10 years, and the number of juvenile offenders sent to jail during the same period has decreased by 16%. Even considering the youth population, which is lower than in the past, it is unreasonable to say that the crime rate has recently increased. There was no clear increase in brutal crime rates such as murder, robbery, rape, and harassment. Judging from the statistical results, the claim that the number of brutal crimes by criminal minor is increasing cannot be considered true.
Park In-sook, lawyer at the Children's Human Rights Commission of ‘Lawyers for a Democratic Society,’ said, “Age 12 to 14 is a period when the frontal lobe of the brain develops, and judgment is insufficient compared to adults, and it is questionable whether raising the level of punishment for adolescents during this period will have a preventive effect.”
She also argued that since adolescents lack the ability to understand criminal proceedings, the issue of lowering the age of criminal minor should not be determined emotionally.
In this way, imposing excessive sentences on less developed a d o l e s c e n t s m a y increase the risk of recidivism (repetition of crimes). For adolescents with less brain power, a prison-like environment may be toxic, as their development can be heavily influenced by their surroundings. When these adolescents return to society, they are likely to cause more problem. According to the analysis of data submitted by Choi Ki-sang, a member of Democratic Party of Korea from the Ministry of Justice, from 2016 to August 2021, 21,196 people, or 12.4% of the 171,368 people subject to juvenile probation, committed recidivism. The recidivism rate of juvenile probation subjects has been on the rise since 2018.
The recidivism rate of adult probation subjects is 7.2%, and that of juvenile probation subjects is 1.7 times higher than that of adult probation subjects. Thus, it is appropriate to lower the sentence to some extent and give them a chance to improve rather than impose a punishment that will do them more harm than good. There is a need to approach juvenile delinquency in aspects other than just lowering the age of criminal minor.
On July 13, Young Korean Academy and Youth Organizations held a press conference in Jongno-gu, Seoul against lowering the age of criminal minor. They said, "We oppose lowering the age of criminal minor," and urged, "We should come up with measures to prevent juvenile delinquency and prevent recidivism." They also stated, "We should focus on prevention by identifying the causes of the increase in juvenile delinquency." Furthermore, they believe.
"The purpose of the juvenile law is not punishment, but protective edification, so related organizations such as the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, and Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice should work together." They insisted on the establishment of a ‘special committee on improving the juvenile justice system’ (tentative name) in the National Assembly or the Prime Minister's Office.
Is lowering the age of criminal minor a way to reduce juvenile delinquency?
With the development of SNS, juvenile delinquency is spreading rapidly, and social interest in this issue is increasing.
In order for policy changes to be effective, first of all, our society should improve the environment of youth, and overall review on whether the juvenile justice system is appropriate, and consider the expansion of counseling personnel and facilities that can prevent accidents. Therefore, I disagree with the opinion that the age of criminal minors should be lowered unconditionally without such improvement.