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Clearing Past to Build a Future for Young Convicts

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The day Xiao Zhang skipped school to play with friends has haunted him for the last five years.

He had been enrolled by the best junior middle school in the town, but this teen from countryside soon lost himself in the dazzling township where he found many places to play.

That day, when he and some friends passed a residential building, they thought of "getting some money".

"I regretted it as soon as I was caught by the police," he says.

The break-in robbery he was involved in sent him to jail for four years in 2004, but he was released after 33 months for good behavior.

He cut contact with former friends after serving the sentence, and tried his best to find a job to support himself and the family, but the shame followed him like shadow.

"I can sense relatives and friends looking down on me. I feel isolated."

But now he's starting to plan his life again with a certificate telling him the criminal record has been cleared.

"I want to be a technician in a local factory. I can learn from the basic level and hope one day I’ll be experienced," says the 21-year-old.

With no new offences for at least one year since the end of his sentence, he was exempted from the obligation of reporting his criminal record when applying for education or employment, as previously required by the country's Criminal Law.

The record will be confined to the local public security department's inner-system and be used only if he commits another crime.

Otherwise it's confidential.

He has been doing interior decoration with a small private company for almost two years.

"I didn't dare to look for a job in big companies as they would check my documents. They wouldn't employ me if they knew my record," he says.

"It's difficult to live with, but now, I don't have to be worried anymore. I can do what I want."

In Laoling County, Zhang's hometown, in east China's Shandong Province, the local court worked with other departments to issue a regulation on conditionally clearing juvenile criminal records early this year.

It stipulates that the records of people under 18 years old who committed crimes and were sentenced to less than three years in jail or detention, will be automatically cleared when the term is up.

Those who are sentenced to three to five years will be cleared if they commit no new crimes for a year after serving their terms; those sentenced to jail for five to 10 years will have the records cleared three years after the end of the term; and those sentenced to more than 10 years will have their records cleared after six years.

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