May 24, 2021 at 12:50 JST
Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa acknowledges the approval of the revised Juvenile Law during an Upper House plenary session on May 21. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
The revised Juvenile Law approved by the Diet defines 18- and 19-year-old offenders as “designated juveniles,” who will face procedures and treatment closer to those applied to adults.
No matter what they may be called, those in that age bracket have the potential for becoming law-abiding members of society, depending on the education and support of others.
Even after the revisions take effect in April, the Juvenile Law should be operated appropriately in light of its ideals, which place emphasis on the rehabilitation of juveniles.
The law was revised because the voting age was lowered from 20 to 18 in 2016 and the age of adulthood in the Civil Law is being changed from 20 to 18 in April 2022.
A plan to limit the law’s coverage to those under 18 was initially considered, but it was shelved during discussions within the ruling parties and the government before the amendment bill was submitted to the Diet.
The law’s basic structure will remain the same.
All juvenile cases are referred to a family court. A judge decides how offenders should be treated after studying their early backgrounds, family environments and other circumstances with psychologists and education experts.
The family court, in principle, refers juveniles to public prosecutors for certain types of crimes to have them undergo the same court procedures applied to adults.
For designated juveniles, the revisions have added robbery, forcible sexual intercourse, arson and other counts to the list of such crimes, which already covers intentional acts causing death.
Still, motivations and modes vary for robbery or other types of crimes.
Family courts are required to examine even more carefully whether juveniles should be imprisoned or given a stay of execution through a criminal trial or be given continued education and support in a juvenile training school or elsewhere.
During the three years through 2019, 26 people who were 18 or 19 committed crimes that were, in principle, designated for referral to prosecutors, but seven of those were given different disposals.
The figures indicate that family courts have made decisions suitable to respective circumstances after scrutinizing individual cases. That stance should be maintained.
In 2019, 6,430 people who were 18 or 19 were detained for criminal offenses, one-quarter of the number two decades ago.
The decline should be taken as a positive result of efforts by those concerned toward the sound development of youths, despite a one-sided criticism that the Juvenile Law is too lenient.
A study shows that some 30 percent of boys and 50 percent of girls incarcerated in juvenile training schools have been abused. Some training school inmates have developmental disorders or intellectual disabilities.
Blaming juvenile cases on offenders alone does not provide a solution.
We should have in-depth discussions from diversified perspectives on how to rehabilitate juvenile offenders and build a stable society while providing support to crime victims and staying cognizant of their suffering.
News organizations will also face a test.
The current Juvenile Law bans media outlets from carrying articles that allow juvenile offenders to be identified. The provision has been reviewed, and there will be no such restrictions for designated juveniles once they have been prosecuted under the revised law.
In this internet age, news organizations have to strike a balance between meeting the public's right to know and considering the impact that reporting may have on offenders’ rehabilitation. Much like family courts, they need to make decisions by carefully examining individual cases.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 23
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