SEOUL-- Lawmakers are pushing for legal revisions to toughen punishment for juvenile crimes which are becoming increasingly more violent but are still subject to relatively light penalties.
A recent spate of peer violence cases has sent shockwaves across the country, reigniting calls for rewriting a set of acts that give young criminals impunity or limit their punishment based on the belief that they will shape up if given a second chance with proper admonishment.
At issue is the juvenile act that stipulates a person under the age of 18, who has committed a crime punishable by death penalty or life imprisonment, shall be given a prison term of up to 15 years.
The act also states that those between the ages of 10 and 14 will be put on probation or given community service rather than facing tough punishment for serious crimes, while those under 10 will not receive any punishment.
Another act concerning "specific violent crimes" such as homicide and sex crimes has also been criticized as too lenient for juveniles. It limits the maximum sentence for those under the age of 18 to 20 years.
Rep. Lee Seok-hyun of the ruling Democratic Party and Rep. Ha Tae-kyeung of the minor opposition Bareun Party said Wednesday that they would submit separate bills to loosen the penalty limits stipulated in the juvenile act.
In July a group of 29 ruling party lawmakers, led by Rep. Pyo Chang-won, submitted a bill to strengthen punishments for juvenile delinquents.
The juvenile crimes drew keen public attention recently as video footage went viral of a middle school girl bleeding profusely after being attacked by a group of her friends in the southern port city of Busan.
Public outrage further escalated as another high school girl was found to have been assaulted by her peers in the eastern seaside city of Gangneung in July.
Citing police data, Rep. Park Nam-choon of the Democratic Party, said that a total of 15,849 teenagers have been arrested on charges of felonies such as homicide, sex crimes and arson between 2012 and 2016.
The ruling party vowed to "seriously" review the revision issue.
"Though punishment is not always the best option, we have to squarely face the reality that the age of juvenile criminals has declined, and that their crimes have become increasingly heinous," Choo Mi-ae, the party leader, said during a meeting with senior party officials.
Ahn Cheol-soo, the leader of the minor opposition People's Party, stressed that the juvenile act must not be "abused."
"We have to craft legal grounds to punish heinous juvenile crimes," Ahn said in his Twitter post.
Amid growing revision calls, Justice Minister Park Sang-ki said he can discuss the issue, but he dismissed the radical demand for the abolition of the juvenile act.
Source: Yonhap News Agency