Move comes as part of wider amendment to criminal law, which includes tougher penalties for stock market fraud and intellectual property rights violations

December 27: China has lowered the age of criminal responsibility to 12 from 14 in an apparent response to a rise in the proportion of juvenile crime being committed by younger children.

According to the amendment to the criminal law, which was passed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) on Saturday, those aged between 12 and 14, will bear criminal responsibility if they “commit intentional homicide, intentionally hurt another person so as to cause death, or severely injure others by resorting to especially cruel means”, the South China Morning Post reported.

The amendment will take effect on March 1 and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate will be responsible for deciding if a case is worth prosecuting, according to a statement from the NPC.

“This is a small adjustment with careful considerations, strict restrictions and preconditions,” Wang Aili, an expert in criminal law with the legal affairs committee of the NPC, was quoted as saying by Xinhua. “It insists on the principle of prioritising juvenile correction education, and also considers the feelings of crime victims and the society.”

According to state media reports, people aged under 14 accounted for 20 per cent of all juvenile crimes in 2017, up from 12.3 per cent in 2009. In some instances, the punishments doled out to those under the age of criminal responsibility, have shocked the public. In one case, a 13-year-old boy from Dalian, northeast China’s Liaoning province, who was found guilty of murdering a 10-year-old girl in October 2019 was given just three years of correctional education.

According to the London-based Child Rights International Network, the median age of criminal responsibility around the world is 14. In the United States, 33 of its 50 states do not have a minimum age, though most carry out a criminal capacity test when assessing culpability.

The lowering of the age of criminal responsibility is part of wider changes to China’s criminal law. The amendment also raises the maximum prison term for trademark and copyright infringements to 10 years, from seven.

In the financial and corporate sectors, the maximum penalties for crimes linked to initial public offerings, the bond market and information disclosure were also increased, according to the NPC statement.

It said also that the maximum prison term for fraud securities issuance had been increased to 15 years’ imprisonment from five, while the maximum fine for such crimes had been increased to 100 per cent of the capital raised, from 5 per cent.

Intermediaries found guilty of providing false statements in securities issuance and deals could face up to 10 years in prison, the statement said.

The amendment also raises the maximum penalty for illegal fundraising to 15 years from 10 at present.

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