Inside the surge of juvenile crime in China: The role of left-behind children

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Jul 2, 2024 at 12:45 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

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Recently, a backlash was unleashed in China following a series of high-profile killings allegedly committed by children. Many Chinese citizens are now calling for harsher penalties as the country grapples with these disturbing crimes.

China is currently reeling from a series of shocking murders of young girls committed by boys as young as 12. Often, these young perpetrators are sent to mental institutions for only a few years. In some cases, they return to school shortly after committing their crimes. This alarming trend has intensified over the past few years, prompting calls for legislative changes in how the government processes juvenile offenders.

As China struggles to determine how to hold children accountable for heinous acts, particularly those committed against other children, the parents of the victims are often left waiting for justice which seems elusive. Gong Junli, whose eight-year-old daughter was brutally stabbed to death by a 13-year-old boy, is among the latest heartbroken parents hoping the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) will sentence his child’s killer to prison.

The single father’s plight gained attention in March 2024 when prosecutors agreed to pursue criminal charges against the teenager. The boy allegedly lured the girl into the woods in Xinjiang Township in September 2022, where he stabbed her multiple times and abandoned her body. Investigators reported that the 13-year-old had prepared knives, blades, gloves, ropes, and other tools for the murder, which he hid in the woods.

The boy showed no remorse and spoke nonchalantly when questioned by police. Gong Junli told the Chinese publication Red Star News that the teenager had developed a hatred for women after being beaten and scolded by his own mother, planning to kill her and female classmates before targeting the eight-year-old as his first victim: “You will never recover after seeing this for the rest of your life,  authorities warned him.”

Others pointed to factors such as parental neglect or poverty that might push children towards crime. Many in China worry that poor children in rural areas, often the accused in high-profile cases, are being abandoned as a consequence of economic progress. These children are called the “left-behind” children. They normally stay in rural areas while their parents work in cities.

A 2019 survey found that 90 per cent of left-behind children suffered emotional abuse, 65 per cent experienced physical violence, and 30 per cent were sexually abused.

The spate of violent incidents has prompted calls for parents to return home and focus on raising their children. The Supreme People’s Court emphasised the need for collaborative efforts by schools, families, social organisations, and government agencies to address bullying and juvenile crime early. “Collaborative efforts by schools, families, social organisations, and government agencies to build a joint work system to address bullying and solve the problem at an early stage is essential and urgent,” the court expressed.

In response to growing public pressure, the SPC issued new guidelines last month on preventing juvenile crime, which may include holding guardians responsible for their children’s actions.

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