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Stiffer penalties sought for minors

After brutal beating of young girl, many want Juvenile Act amended
Sept 07,2017
Korean lawmakers have started to call for an amendment to the Juvenile Act in response to chilling photos of a 14-year-old brutally attacked by teenage girls in Busan last week, which encouraged hundreds of thousands of people to sign an online petition demanding an overhaul to the system.

All four of the alleged attackers, three 14-year-olds and one 13-year-old, are likely to face more lenient punishment as minors.

Under the Juvenile Act, which covers minors from 10 to 18, the maximum sentence is 15 years, while those from 10 to 13 are considered “protection cases” and do not face criminal trials.

In these “protection cases,” a family or district’s Juvenile Department hands down one of 10 rulings, which range from consigning the juvenile to his or her guardian to transferring the person to a juvenile reformatory for a maximum two years.

A petition on the Blue House website seeking more serious punishment against the teens has garnered more than 211,000 signatures so far, and is rapidly gaining more.

Rep. Choo Mi-ae, chairwoman of the ruling Democratic Party, said Wednesday that her party would review the law with “prudence,” adding that juvenile delinquency was growing more violent across the country.

“Our society has a duty to protect teenagers, and punishing them isn’t all there is,” she said, but added, “we have to face the truth - juvenile delinquency is getting more atrocious and [the assailants] are getting younger.”

Rep. Woo Won-sik, floor leader of the same Democratic Party, said juvenile delinquency has become a “serious concern,” pointing out that teenagers were less penalized compared to adults. In light of the fact that teenage victims are often severely harmed, Woo urged the amendment of the Juvenile Act.

Rep. Yoo Jae-jung, a member of the Liberty Korea Party who heads the parliamentary Public Administration and Security Committee, agreed during a visit to the Busan Metropolitan Police Agency on Tuesday that the National Assembly should consider amending the Juvenile Act, adding that the parliament would also review the contentious Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment of Special Violent Crimes.

Under that law, a juvenile receives a limited imprisonment of 20 years, notwithstanding the Juvenile Act, when he or she is supposed to receive death penalty or life imprisonment for committing a “special violent crime.”

A “special violent crime” includes homicide, kidnapping, human trafficking and rape, among others.

Rep. Pyo Chang-won of the Democratic Party lodged a draft of an amendment to this act on July 31, before the Busan gang-attack occurred, calling for the abolishment of the 20 years sentence cap, and lowering the age at which a person can face criminal trial.

The Busan case goes back to last Friday night, when four teenagers beat a 14-year-old girl for about an hour and a half with glass bottles, construction materials and a chair near a factory in the city’s Saha District.

The assault came to light Sunday when a gruesome photo of the victim, covered in blood and kneeling on a concrete floor, spread online after one of the suspects showed it to her friend while asking her whether she would be jailed. The victim’s mother attested that her daughter was beaten by two of the same suspects on June 29 for allegedly flirting with one of their boyfriends. The latest attack was revenge for reporting the earlier case to police, which the suspects admitted.

The victim sustained at least three serious scars on her head and two in the mouth, and is now receiving medical treatment at a hospital.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, CHAE YOON-KYUNG [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]