Girl held for murder, but by law punishment will be light

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Girl held for murder, but by law punishment will be light

A murder in Guri, Gyeonggi, has reignited debate on Korea’s juvenile law after a fifth-grader stabbed another girl to death - and the worst punishment she faces is two years in juvenile prison.

There’s a history of complaints about the controversial Juvenile Act, under which defendants under the age of 19 generally receive far more lenient punishments than adults.

News about young people committing heinous crimes and getting off with light punishments have led to outrage from the public and calls for changes to the law. A large number of underage defendants aren’t even subjected to criminal trials.

But when the furor dies down, the system remains the same.

The most recent crime occurred last week. According to the Gyeonggi police, a female suspect only identified as being in the fifth grade of an elementary school in Guri, just east of Seoul, invited a friend from a different school to her grandparent’s apartment last Thursday.

The two girls knew each other from church.

It is unknown what they did inside the apartment. That evening, a neighbor came across the victim covered in blood lying in a hallway. She screamed for help and a security guard called 112, the police number.

The victim was brought to a nearby hospital by ambulance but died on the way. The suspect later admitted to police she stabbed the victim multiple times.

Some local media outlets reported that the suspect allegedly murdered the victim because she had been spreading rumors about the suspect’s parents getting a divorce. Police refused to confirm this.

The suspect was sent to the Seoul Juvenile Classification Review Center in Anyang, Gyeonggi, last Friday, where she will likely stay for a month as a family court decides her punishment.

Under Korea’s Juvenile Act, the maximum sentence that can be given to minors aged 14 to 18 is 15 years, while children aged 10 to 13 are considered “protection cases” and are exempt from criminal punishment.

The maximum punishment given to them is two years in a juvenile reformatory.

The defendant in the Guri case is between the ages of 10 and 13, according to police.

Children under the age of 10 cannot be charged with an offense at all.

BY JEON ICK-JIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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