Six in 10 Japanese Youths Support Harsher Criminal Punishments for 18- and 19-Year-Olds: Poll [2021/05/14]
Bills have been submitted to the Diet (Parliament) to revise the Juvenile Law with effect from April 2022. Do you know about these moves?
Japan will lower the age of legal adulthood to 18 from the current 20 in April 2022 under the 2018 revision to the Civil Code, the first such change in about 140 years. This will allow 18- and 19-year-olds to, among other things, take out loans and credit cards and rent an apartment room without parental consent, although the legal age for smoking, drinking alcohol and legal gambling is set to remain at 20.
The Cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has also submitted to the current ordinary session of the Diet (Parliament) bills designed to revise the Juvenile Law to expand the scope of crimes for which 18- and 19-year-olds can be tried as adults in criminal courts. Currently, they can only be tried as adults if crimes are committed with intent and lead to a victim’s death, but proposed revisions would add crimes punishable by at least one year in prison, including robbery, rape and arson.
The proposed legislation would continue to put 18- and 19-year-olds under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Law as “designated juveniles” with all criminal cases involving them sent to family courts first. But it would also allow the media to disclose their names and photos once they are formally indicted of these crimes after they are sent back to prosecutors.
In 2016, the revision of the Public Offices Election Law lowered the voting age from 20 to 18, allowing 18- and 19-year-olds to vote in national and local elections.
To look into how young Japanese feel about these legal changes, The Nippon Foundation conducted an online survey on the subject of “Juvenile Law Revisions” from March 19 to 22, covering 1,000 youths aged between 17 and 19 across the country.
The survey found that about six in 10 of the respondents (60.2%) said they knew about the proposed Juvenile Law revisions. Of these, 14.6% said they are following the issue closely, while 45.6% said they are vaguely aware of the issue.
When asked about the proposed amendments that would expand the scope of crimes for which 18- and 19-year-olds can be tried as adults, almost six in 10 (58.2%) endorse the revisions and only 4.3% do not, with 37.5% saying they don’t know.
The proposed revisions would also lift a ban on disclosure by media outlets of names, photos and other information that would expose the identities of 18- and 19-year-olds once indicted for these crimes. The poll showed that more than two in five (43.3%) approve of the change while less than one in five (18.8%) do not. The rest (37.9%) said they don’t know.
The House of Representatives passed the Juvenile Law revision bills on April 20 and should the House of Councilors do so during the current session as the government hopes, the revision would take effect in April 2022 simultaneously with the revised Civil Code. If that happens, 18- to 19-year-olds would be treated as adults under the Civil Code, but would remain under the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Law as “designated juveniles.”
When asked about this, almost one in three (32.0%) said they see it as strange the country has two laws that treat them differently. The respondents were divided almost evenly with 50.9% feeling uncomfortable with the term “designated juveniles” and 49.1% not so.
Critics of the Juvenile Law amendments have argued that youth aged 18 and 19 are still highly “malleable” and full of potential for change. I sincerely hope that the change to the law, especially the media disclosure of their identities, will not deprive them of the opportunities they have to rehabilitate themselves under the current law and that simply subjecting them to heavier punishment will not risk increasing their recidivism.
This was the 36th in the series of the awareness survey of 18-year-olds launched by The Nippon Foundation in October 2018, following the lowering of the nation’s voting age from 20 to 18 in 2016. The survey was designed to track the attitudes and awareness of 18-year-olds regarding politics, society, work, families, friends and other issues.
Do you agree with expanding the scope of crimes for which 18- and 19-year-olds can be tried as adults?