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Editorial: Ruling parties' bill to amend Japan's Juvenile Act too tough on minors

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner Komeito agreed that the age of minors under Japan's Juvenile Act, which stipulates how juvenile crimes are to be handled, should be kept at the current age of under 20.

    A debate had been taking place on whether to lower the maximum age of minors to under 18, to coincide with the lowering of the age of adulthood to 18 under the Civil Code starting in April 2022. As the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice did not reach a conclusion, politicians were entrusted with providing direction.

    It is said that teens aged 18 and 19 are still in their developing stages and have a high chance of straightening themselves out. The Juvenile Act focuses more on sound upbringing than on punishment, and we can expect positive effects from youth being treated under this principle. Not lowering the maximum age to which the Juvenile Act is applicable was a reasonable decision.

    A unique characteristic of the Juvenile Act is that all cases are heard in family courts. Family court investigators and other experts meet with the minors in question and inquire about their family environments and early development histories. Many minors have been abused. Taking such factors into consideration, the judge hands down disciplinary action, considering what effects it will have on the minor's rehabilitation process.

    This system has had a certain level of efficacy in preventing recidivism. Former judges and those who have been in juvenile correctional institutions had voiced objections to the lowering of the maximum age of those covered by the Juvenile Act.

    A lingering concern, however, is that the ruling parties' amendment bill for the Juvenile Act toughens penalties on minors aged 18 and 19.

    Under current law, if a teen aged 18 or 19 intentionally kills someone, as a general rule, they will be subject to the same criminal trial as someone 20 or older. But the amendment bill would also make this apply to other crimes such as robbery, rape and arson.

    People who are subject to criminal trials for such crimes are expected to increase by a large margin. However, in the case of juveniles, there are cases in which the perpetrator does not fully recognize the gravity of the result.

    If a prison sentence is handed down in a criminal trial without a term of suspension, the person found guilty will be sent to prison. At prisons, the main purpose is to impose criminal liability. Compared to juvenile correctional institutions, where instructors watch the minors 24 hours a day and provide guidance, prisons lack an educational component.

    As part of the toughening of penalties, a policy to report the real name and photos of minors after indictment has been drawn up. Until now, this had been prohibited because it would stand in the way of young people's social reintegration. If this law is changed, the effects will be great.

    Even under current law, there are stricter rules for those aged 18 and 19 -- who can be sentenced to death -- than for those aged 17 and younger. Every time a huge incident has taken place, the laws have been revised.

    Juvenile crimes are decreasing. We should be cautious about toughening penalties just because young people have the right to vote and other rights under the Civil Code.

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