Rights watchdog disagrees on toughening minor law
SEOUL, Dec. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's human rights watchdog is opposed to the idea of lowering the legal age at which minors can face criminal liability as it neither aligns with the international standard, nor does it portend a fall in juvenile delinquency, its officials said Friday.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said it recently submitted its position on the matter in writing to Justice Minister Park Sang-ki and National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang.
It also called for revising policies concerning minors accused of crimes in a way so as to better protect and guarantee their rights as defendants rather than toughening the infancy defense, it said.
The watchdog's recommendation comes as the government and parliament are pushing to lower the age of criminal responsibility for minors.
Under the current law, minors younger than 14 are exempt from criminal liability on grounds that they lack the mental capacity to be fully aware of their actions. Minors aged between 10-13 who commit crimes are therefore subject to probation. Those under 10 are exempt from any form of legal penalty.
But calls have grown lately for lowering the legal age of criminal responsibility after a number of serious crimes, such as mob violence, committed by minors that in some cases led to deaths of victims, shocked the public.
A number of bills aimed at toughening the minor law are pending in parliament.
The watchdog said lowering the age is not a solution to the problem.
Citing data by the Supreme Prosecutors' Office, it noted that the portion of crimes committed by minors under age 14 accounts only for 1 percent of the average over the past decade. The commissions of juvenile crimes by those aged 16-18 were on the rise, taking up 20 percent of the total over the same period.
"Given the decline in the overall birthrate, it's hard to believe crimes by 13 year olds or under are increasing, nor can we say for sure that punishing them harder is a more effective way of preventing the crimes," the NHRC said.
The watchdog added that the policymakers' move does not align with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"When it comes to crimes by minors, it's important that we revise the law and policies to provide them with a better environment so as to prevent recurrence of crimes, including educating them on their rights as defendants, so as to help them turn themselves around," it said.
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