Shanghai Youth Courts Protect Children's Rights

Local juvenile tribunals are relying on their 17 years' experience dealing with youth offenders as they evolve into an independent juvenile court, according to China Daily.

"The municipal authorities have given us great support on the idea of setting up a juvenile court," said Chen Jianmin, president of the juvenile tribunal with Shanghai's Changning District.

Juvenile tribunals only handle criminal cases. But the number of civil cases involving child support and minors' education rights has soared in recent years.

The problem is that those civil cases are being handled through Civil Law, which was not designed to adequately protect children.

"An independent court may help solve such problems," Chen said.

Special courts for juvenile cases began in 1899 in the United States. China established its first juvenile tribunal in 1984 in Shanghai's Changning District Court.

Juvenile delinquency was rampant in China after the country dragged itself out of the "cultural revolution" 1966-76 , a time when children received little or no education.

In 1979 in Shanghai, the number of people younger than 25 involved in crimes reached 15,000, or 78 per cent of all criminal offenders. That was the highest percentage in history.

Juveniles were treated as adults in the court system then, but officials soon realized the equal treatment was flawed because the juvenile recidivism rate at the time was a whopping 10 per cent.

After juvenile tribunals were set up under the principles of "instruction, reform and redemption," the recidivism rate plummeted to 1 per cent.

The tribunal's obvious success rate led to the establishment of 2,500 other tribunals throughout the mainland.

Minors were often given leniency when they were punished by the tribunals.

The judge's work didn't end once the penalty was issued. Judges continued to supervise the juvenile offenders to help them better themselves.

But new problems arise in ever-changing societies and tribunals began having problems handling all the casework.

Statistics show that in the last decade, the juvenile delinquency rate accounted for 10 per cent to 14 per cent of all the criminal offences in the city. More than half of those juvenile cases were committed by gangs. Online crimes are surfacing as well.

To better crack down on juvenile delinquency and make full use of judicial power, the city reduced the number of juvenile tribunals in 1999 from 20 to four respectively in Changning, Putuo, Zhabei and Minhang district courts.

Those tribunals were then put in charge of juvenile cases for the entire city.

The centralization helped considerably. Because independent courts are allotted more power, they can better supervise offenders and detention homes.

Since China still has no criminal laws or procedure laws for minors, an independent juvenile court system would make the overall system more integrated, said Li Jie, deputy director of the Steering Group for the Juvenile Tribunal in Shanghai Higher People's Court.

People's Daily Online ---