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TRENDS IN JUVENILE CRIME

Juvenile crime was not seen as a separate social problem because of the total system of control created by Mao (Cao 2007). It was only after the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when the new leaders, under Deng Xiaoping, changed the course of China’s development and opened its door to the outside world (i.e., the “open-door” policy; Cao and Cullen 2001). The period from early 1980s to the present is believed to be a period with relatively high juvenile crime rates (Liu 2007). Although official crime statistics have been criticized for having many shortcomings (see He and Marshall 1997; He 2014), they are the most systematic source of data available in China (Liu 2008). The China Statistical Yearbook and the Law Yearbook are the major sources of statistics on crime including juvenile crime (Zhao et al. 2014). They report mainly the number of juvenile offenders tried by the court, the percentage of juvenile offenders among all offenders tried by the courts, and the number of young offenders incarcerated

Number of offenders reported by the courts. Data source

Figure 8.1. Number of offenders reported by the courts. Data source: China Statistical Bureau (1991-2014), China Statistical Yearbook.

in prisons and juvenile reformatories. This means that only serious adolescent offenders are included in the two statistical sources. It is possible that a large number of juvenile offenders who committed minor offenses were dealt with by the police according to the Public Security Administration Punishment Law and they were not included. In addition, juvenile crime rates were not calculated or reported by the official crime statistics. Therefore, the juvenile crime trend reported as the number of offenders tried by the courts below needs to be interpreted with caution.

Figure 8.1 shows that from 1990 to 2013, the overall number of crimes tried by the courts dramatically increased. The sharp increase largely comes from adult offenders above the age of 25. The number of juvenile offenders and young offenders fluctuated and shows some increase over the same period. For example, in 1990 the number of juvenile offenders under the age of 18 was 42,033; this number increased to 55,817 in 2013, showing an increase of over 20 %.

Although the overall number of juvenile offenders increased, it does not necessary mean that juvenile crime became more serious because the size of the juvenile population increased as well. Because the China Population and Employment Statistics Yearbooks include census statistics for every 10 years and statistics from selected samples for other years, it makes it unlikely to calculate the juvenile crime rate. One way to explore this issue is to compare the percentage of juvenile offenders among all offenders and the percentage of juvenile population among overall population of China.

Percent of offenders reported by the courts. Note

Figure 8.2. Percent of offenders reported by the courts. Note: (1) Due to the fact that the population size for youth at the age between 14 and 17 (inclusive) was not provided by the China Population and Employment Statistics Yearbook in 2000, the percentage of youth at the age between 14 and 17 was not calculated for the same year. (2) The most recent statistics reported by the China Population and Employment Statistics Yearbook was for the year of 2012. Data source: China Statistical Bureau (1991-2014), China Statistical Yearbook; China Statistical Bureau and Employment Section (1991-2013), China Population and Employment Statistics Yearbook.

Figure 8.2 shows that the overall percentage of juvenile and young offenders actually demonstrates a decreasing trend in the past 20 years. This might be partially explained as the result of continuous implementation of “one-child policy” (newly revised to “two-children policy” in 2015) and low birth rates in China. The percentages of juvenile offenders under the age of 18 roughly overlap with the percentage of juvenile population, except during the period from 2003 to 2012. During this period, the percentages of serious juvenile offenders are higher than the percentages of juveniles in the population. This means that juvenile offenders are overrepresented in the court statistics. In other words, juvenile crimes became more serious during that time period. The peak was in 2008 when the juvenile population accounted for 5.87 % of the overall population, while the juvenile offender population accounted for 8.82 % of the overall offender population.

It is worth noting that the statistics in the figures include only serious juvenile offenders, i.e., those tried by the courts at the various levels. It is likely that nonserious offenses have been increasing accompanying with the rapid social and economic changes in China.

Scholarly research using either official data or self-report delinquency data found that (1) juvenile deviance and delinquency had been on the rise and (2) the delinquency rate in China is lower than those in many Western societies. Bakken (1993) using official data found that, during the 1950s and 1960s, juvenile delinquency among those at ages 14-18 years old accounted for 0.2-0.3 % of overall crimes and it increased to close to 20 %> in 1989. Wei et al. (2004) compared selfreported offending in school students and apprehended juvenile offenders in Brisbane, Australia, and Shanghai, China. They found that the rate of participation in most categories of offending in the Brisbane sample was higher than that in the Shanghai sample; Brisbane school students were much more likely than Shanghai students to report at least one type of offense (85.8 % vs. 28.8 %>); cooffending was found to peak at an older age and was more common among the Shanghai school students than the Brisbane students. Using data collected from a birth cohort study in the city of Wuhan, Friday et al. (2005) found that only 81 of the 5341 respondents had official records of delinquency/crime. Comparatively, the rate of crime was over 30 % in the Philadelphia cohort. Webb et al. (2011) collected data from 1043 junior high school students in China using the International Self-Report Delinquency Survey and found similar results: the US sample has higher prevalence of self-nominated gang membership than the Chinese sample. In addition, the lifetime and last year participation rates in various criminal acts among the gang members in the Chinese sample (2 %) were much lower than those in the US sample (4 %). Pyrooz and Decker (2013) reported a level of gang involvement of 11 % among 2163 school students in Changzhi City of China, but made no comparison between the Chinese sample and Western samples. The higher level of gang involvement by Pyrooz and Decker (as compared with Webb et al. 2011) may probably be explained by the fact that Pyrooz and Decker (2013) employed a sample which was older including both high school students and college students and that delinquency was measured as involvement in 15 types of offenses ranging from minor deviant behavior (skipping classes) to relatively serious offense (attacking someone with a weapon).

In terms of minor deviant behavior, such as smoking and drinking, the rates seem to be higher. Using data collected from 1040 students in sixth, eighth, and tenth grades from five public schools in Beijing, Li et al. (1996) found that 70 % of the students reported prior experience of alcohol consumption and that there was a likely link between drinking and other problem behavior. A high level of involvement in delinquency among children of migrant adolescents, as a result of rapid social and economic changes in China, was reported. Chen (2015) collected data among 485 migrant students and 836 native urban students from 32 junior high schools in 10 districts of Guangzhou City and found that migrant adolescents have higher propensity for delinquency than their native urban counterparts.

Overall, scholarly research has found evidence in support of relatively low levels of juvenile delinquency in China. It should be noted, however, that these studies have limitations. First, Chinese studies on juvenile delinquency are largely descriptive and rudimentary without much conceptualization and theorizing (Liu 2007). Second, although a number of empirical studies made use of quantitative data, many contain methodological problems. For example, data were collected from convenience samples with limited number of measures. Third, unique Chinese characteristics of juvenile delinquency were not identified.

 
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