Juvenile Delinquency in S. Korea: It’s Getting Out of Hand

With shocking stories of juvenile crimes, many claim that the laws must not protect the youth just for their age regardless of how severe their crimes were. The majority of South Korean citizens have turned their attention to the Juvenile Protection Act and the Juvenile Law. Because both laws are made to protect and educate the youth, juvenile criminals have abused these laws that lighten their sentence for violent crimes, which led to 260,000 signatures on petitions to abolish the Juvenile Law. Many experts speculate that teenagers nowadays aren’t the same from the past. Often times, they commit crimes worse than what adult criminals commit. 

A horrifying example that exemplifies how severe this issue is when the accomplices of 2017 Incheon Elementary School Student Murder Case were accused of luring an elementary school girl to murder and disposing of the dead body. Park and Kim received life-sentence imprisonment and a 20-year sentence from the prosecution in August. The motives and behaviors revealed from the investigation and trial processes were terribly cruel. However, Kim, underaged, applied to the Juvenile Law; as a result, the court was only capable of sentencing her a maximum of 20 years despite utilizing egregious methods to commit homicide. On the other hand, Park, who was over the age of citizens outlined in Juvenile Law, received life-sentence imprisonment. 

After numerous juvenile crimes, this incident sparked several politicians to provide exclusive restrictions on youth offenders who committed violent crimes. On September 1, 2017, a total of four teenage girls heavily assaulted a middle school girl who suffered from terrible injuries. The teenage girls used bricks, iron pipe, chairs, glass bottles, and steel frames, as identified on security camera footage. The victim was assaulted for about one hour and 40 minutes; the inside of her mouth and the back of her head were torn, and blood streamed down from her body. Jung, the main culprit, proudly sent photos and related information to an upperclassman through Facebook Messenger, who immediately reported to the police. 

On February 1, 2018, the Department of Justice claimed that despite the atrocious crimes committed by the defendants, the Juvenile Law prioritizes rehabilitation over punishment for juvenile delinquents. Due to this, the defendants would be receiving protective disposition without any penalty. Protective disposition, mentioned in the Juvenile Act, is for the environmental adjustment and character correction of juveniles demonstrating anti-social behavior, and by providing special measures regarding criminal dispositions. 

One other recent juvenile delinquency that angered the public was when a 19-year-old boy was beaten to death by four peers in an apartment in Gwangju, on July 9, 2019. Just because they are 18-19 years old, their sentence would be reduced significantly. The assailants fled away after covering the dead body with a blanket but delivered themselves to the police two days after the crime. The 23-year-old sister of the victim first recalled his body, in “color.”

It was reported that one of the assailants had gone to a juvenile detention center for assault. In March, the victim was forcefully brought into an apartment to make him run errands for alcohol and cigarettes and hit him, which the assailants claimed during the investigation. The apartment was just a torture room for the victim. The assailants also confessed that they continuously beat him a hundred times a day with various tools including vacuum cleaners, wood, steel, and more. On the only days that the assailants didn’t hit the victim, his body was too swollen even to hold himself properly. It was also confirmed that the assailants water tortured the victim.

Three videos of these assaults were identified from the assailants’ phones, which had been restored through digital forensics. Approximately ten nude photos of the victim’s swollen body were found. The videos and photos that meant for pleasure and enjoyment for the assailants became important evidence data. According to the autopsy results, the anus had been ruptured and damaged. The sister of the victim said, “Is this what they can do as human beings? . . . I was so outraged and furious that I couldn’t even express my anger.”

Juvenile Law is also becoming a hot issue internationally. Many nations are attempting to lower the standard age of youth applicable to the law. Especially in Japan, although 18-19-year-old teenagers are protected under Juvenile Law, the penalty will not be reduced but will receive the same as adults. Similarly, in the U.S., youth under the age of 18 are protected by the Juvenile Law. However, penalties for major crimes are exceptions. The amended laws allow youth offenders to be penalized with a life sentence; for example, 2,500 youth offenders have been life imprisoned without parole for their crimes. 

Recently in the 2010s, there has been a movement from South Korea’s national assembly to amend the Juvenile Law. A member of the Democratic Party of Korea, Pyo Chang-won in July 2017, submitted a proposition to punish youth offenders who committed violent crimes the same as adults. Furthermore, Lee Suk-Hyun from the same party has proposed amendments to three bills. According to the proposed changes, the minimum age subject to punishment in the prosecution of crimes will be lowered from the current full 14 to full 12 years. Furthermore, the sentences for juvenile offenders who committed brutal crimes are increased. 

Similar to how the world is changing, there is no doubt that laws will have to change accordingly. With juvenile delinquency getting out of hand, one must be aware of the social problems that may cause this and the societal effects that result from it. Being analytical of the situations and asking questions of how just it is to punish youth offenders for their crimes will be what an exemplary citizen would do. It is not only the politicians’ problems to consider the best possible ways to develop and educate teenagers, but everyone’s concern to gradually change society so that our safety and happiness are secured. 

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