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Clearing Past to Build a Future for Young Convicts

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The regulation does not apply to people convicted of crimes concerning with national security, drugs and severe violence and recidivists.

Jia Fengyong, presiding judge of Laoling juvenile court, says among all juvenile convicts, 99 percent of them stay out of trouble once they've served their time.

"It's unfair to let them shoulder the burden for the rest of their lives," says Jia.

China arrested 92,574 underage criminals in 2006, a 33-percent rise from 2003. About one in 10 criminals detained and prosecuted in 2006 was underage, according to the Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

Yao Jianlong, associate professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law, says the road to reform for young offenders has been blocked, stirring resentment towards the society.

"Many offenders can only find jobs and return to society through illegally concealing their criminal records, which will lead to severe social problems," he says.

It's especially unfair for minors, whose mistakes can be rectified when they are young, Yao says, adding the practice of Laoling will be a positive step in helping young offenders return to normal life.

However, restrictions still remain. The regulation does not cover offenders applying for posts in which convicted offenders are banned under current laws.

Yao says China has 160 laws and regulations prohibiting offenders from certain jobs, such as civil servants, teachers, and lawyers.

China's Criminal Law, which was first enacted in 1979, makes it compulsory for people to state their criminal records when enrolling in the armed forces or applying for jobs. This provision remains unchanged although the law has been amended for several times since then.

However, the Law on Protection of Minors, which took effect in 1992, stipulates it is illegal to discriminate against convicted minors who were enrolling in education or training, or applying for jobs.

Jia Fengyong says the Laoling regulation is in accordance with the provision. "Without really clearing their records, there is no effective way to ensure the underage delinquents are not discriminated against."

Pengzhou County, in southwest Sichuan Province, first piloted clearing juvenile records in 2007. Licang district, of Shandong's Qingdao City, and Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province, also followed this year.

In October 2006, the policy of "balancing severe punishment with leniency" was first recognized by China's central authorities as a means to help build a harmonious society.

In March, the Supreme People's Court (SPC) says in its Outlines on the Third Five-Year (2009-2013) Reform that the SPC would work with other departments to give more details, such as the conditions and the procedures for clearing records of underage minors to help them return to society more easily through showing more leniency.

Fan Chongyi, professor with China University of Political Science and Law, says the clearing of juveniles' records practised the policy of "balancing severe punishment with leniency," showing social responsibility for minors.

He says the obligation in the Criminal Law to report records should be amended, not only for minors, but also for adults.

Yao Jianlong says it is time to end public discrimination to make the social environment better. "People are used to thinking that living or working with people with criminal records may be a threat to their own safety."

Fan says it would also take time for the law enforcement agencies to examine past files if the regulation is to be adopted nationwide.

"There is still a long way to go," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency August 11, 2009)

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