While most of the world is mesmerized by the high PISA scores of students in Shanghai schools, and the impressive achievements of Chinese students on standardized tests, a problem that has escaped the attention of most Chinese authorities (and the outside world) is violence in Chinese schools. In time for Children’s Day (June 1), a team of researchers at the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) published a report on school violence disturbing to any student, parent, or person who was once a school child.
No comprehensive data
The research team themselves admitted that they do not have comprehensive data on the problem. School violence often does not enter the formal criminal justice system and is dealt with through public security or other administrative measures, or is not dealt with at all. The team reviewed 100 criminal cases that arose in the last two years and visited some local courts, including those in Qingdao, a court in which the SPC is piloting measures to improve juvenile justice.
Age of offenders
The age of criminal responsibility for juveniles is currently 14, so the statistics on the age of offenders reflects this. 65% were between the ages of 16 and 18, while 34% were between the ages of 14 and 16. These numbers are not a true reflection of the extent of school violence because criminal responsibility for juveniles in China between the ages of 14 and 16 is limited to eight crimes, as set out in Article 17 of the Criminal Law.
33% of students were in junior high, 22% in senior high school, 26% were vocational school students, while 12% were unemployed, with 2% primary school students.
In 49% of cases, the offender used a knife, including switchblades, fruit knives, and hunting knives, 67% of the time causing death (35%) or serious injury (32%). In about half of the cases the offender turned himself in and also about half the cases were resolved by settlement with the victim/victim’s family.
In 32 cases of serious bodily harm, the offender was exempted from criminal punishment, in 68% of cases, the offender received a suspended sentence, while in 14% of cases the offender was sentenced to under three years or three to five years incarceration.
In 35 homicide cases, the offender in 23% of cases received a suspended sentence; 29% of cases, over 10 years in prison; in 34% of cases, five to ten years in prison.
The problem is not taken seriously–with a prevalent attitude that school violence is part of growing up, and there is a lack of consensus about what to do about it;
Juvenile justice legislation is lagging behind, with offenders becoming increasingly younger, with cases of intentional homicide committed by juveniles under 14, with no penalties against stalking, verbal bullying, etc. This study, along with others, may lead eventually to changes in the age of criminal responsibility in China。
Too many serious offenders are receiving suspended sentences or avoiding criminal punishment by settling with the victim.
The researchers suggest looking to useful models from outside of China, to improve Chinese legislation.
The Ministry of Education has only recently issued a notice on school bullying. requiring incidents to be reported and preventative measures to be taken. It is likely that schools are reluctant to report these incidents.
School bullying and violence is a global problem and one where international cooperative efforts could be useful. In China, it is related, in part, to adults migrating to cities or developed areas to earn money, leaving behind their children with grandparents to study in underfunded schools.
(photos from the internet)