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Breaking the Cycle: The Impact of Family and Society on Juvenile Offenders

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With the continuous rise in juvenile crime, the severity and diversity of offenses are also increasing. As the age of offenders continues to decrease, there are many different opinions regarding the age of juvenile defenders. The Ministry of Justice has already announced a legislative proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 13 years old.

Lowered Age of Criminal Responsibility

The government has decided to revise the Criminal Code and Juvenile Act to lower the age of criminal responsibility from under 14 years old to under 13 years old. Juveniles aged between 10 and 14, known as juveniles subject to the Juvenile Act, receive protective measures such as community service or placement in a juvenile facility rather than criminal punishment even if they commit a crime. However, once the law is revised, individuals aged 13 and above will be subject to criminal punishment.

Are Juveniles Not Punished?

The protective measures that juveniles receive are often similar to the criminal punishments that adults receive. Juvenile facilities, while taking on the form of a school, have restrictions on activities such as outings and visits, similar to adult imprisonment. Community service and compulsory attendance orders are the same type of punishment as adults, just with different imposed times. Saying that juvenile offenders do not receive punishment can be seen as half true and half false, given these similarities.

Juvenile Measures In Other Countries

Even when compared to international cases, it’s clear that Korean juveniles are essentially receiving protective measures at the level of punishment. In Germany, for instance, they do not impose protective measures on boys under the age of 14. Instead, welfare authorities intervene for their protection. Canada has legally specified that the age of criminal responsibility is 12 and above, but criminal punishment is only imposed on those 14 and above.

Conduct Disorder and Juveniles

Conduct disorder refers to behavior that goes beyond temporary deviation, repeatedly and persistently violating others’ basic rights, societal norms, and rules. Factors such as excessive discipline, family environment, and experiences of abuse can influence it with multiple factors often working together. A parent’s mental health issues, such as parents’ antisocial personality disorders or alcohol-related issues, can also contribute to children experiencing conduct disorder.

Adolescents with Conduct Disorder

Adolescents with conduct disorder often display a lack of trust in those around them and a low ability to empathize. They tend to shift the blame for their mistakes onto others and attempt to rationalize their wrong actions in some way. Many adolescents who commit crimes also suffer from other issues, such as depression. Severe depression can lead to cognitive issues, which can in turn lead to criminal behavior.

Social Background Also Plays a Role

The level of bonding within the child’s community, such as schools or neighborhoods, also impacts the child. If they struggle to receive help or attention from those around them, they may resolve problems on their own and express their aggression inappropriately. While in the past it was believed that those from poorer backgrounds were at higher risk of conduct disorder, nowadays it can be easily found among children from wealthy homes who grow up without parental control.

The Importance of Family Environment During Growth

The family environment is a major cause of conduct disorder. The more conflict there is in the home, the more likely the child is to fail to suppress their aggression and display it outwardly. If the child experiences trauma, it can lead to disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and manifest into aggression. Even if the child hasn’t directly experienced abuse, witnessing abuse by a parent or sibling can lead to aggression and emotional instability.

What Happens If These Behaviors During Adolescence Are Left Unattended?

If these symptoms of conduct disorder are left unattended, there’s a high risk that the symptoms will continue into adulthood. If they become adults without treating these symptoms, the quality of their offenses can worsen. They might harm others without feeling guilt or recognizing the severity of their actions, and they can gradually become desensitized.

Early Diagnosis and Consistent Treatment Are Needed

Early diagnosis and consistent treatment are crucial for conduct disorder. The treatment can be more effective when guardians participate. If the child has a strong aggressive tendency and is suffering from severe depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, etc., medication such as antidepressants may be necessary. Psychological treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy and behavior therapy are also often combined with treatment.

Warm Attention and Support from Adults Are Also Needed

To solve the issue of juvenile crime, we need to find real solutions for the reformation of juvenile offenders rather than just lowering the age of criminal responsibility. Changes like operating juvenile facilities on par with regular schools and enhancing their educational functions are needed. Also, some children can change with just the warm attention and support of adults. Isn’t it necessary to give children who have committed crimes the opportunity to reflect, rather than just viewing them as headaches?

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