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Fatal stone incident fuels discussions on legal immunity for children in South Korea

A stone thrown by an elementary school student fatally struck a man in South Korea, sparking a nationwide debate on legal immunity for those under 14. Similar cases, legislative proposals, and diverse netizen opinions unfold.

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SOUTH KOREA: On November 17, a man in his 70s was fatally struck by a stone thrown by an elementary school student in South Korea, reigniting a nationwide debate on the legal immunity for those under 14.

According to The Korea Herald, the victim was walking with his wife in a Seoul apartment complex when a stone thrown from 10 stories above hit him, resulting in his immediate death.

A subsequent police investigation revealed that two children, both under 10, were responsible for the incident.

However, South Korean law designates individuals under 14 as “criminal minors,” exempt from punishment, but can be subject to protective custody.

The victim’s son expressed frustration, questioning whether the blame lies with the parents, the children, or society.

Similar cases involving children under the age of 14

In 2015, a parallel occurrence transpired when an 11-year-old boy, throwing a brick, tragically caused the death of a 55-year-old woman.

The boy was subsequently placed in protective custody, charged with causing death by negligence.

The debate on lowering the age for criminal accountability was sparked, but obstacles impede legislative changes.

The number of crimes committed by children aged under 14 more than doubled from 2018 to 2022

According to The Korea Herald’s report and data disclosed by Rep. Cho Eun-hee of the People Power Party, crimes committed by children under 14 surged from 7,364 in 2018 to 16,435 in the past year.

Over 70% were theft and violence, with 7,874 and 4,075 cases, respectively.

The offences also included 557 instances of sexual assault and 58 cases of arson.

On 21 April, six teenagers assaulted a middle school student, extorting money from her by taking compromising pictures.

Only three faced criminal punishment, as the others were under 14.

When asked to apologize by the victim’s parents, the three responded dismissively, “We’re criminal minors, so we don’t get punished. Don’t threaten us lol,” via text message.

In response, the Justice Ministry proposed lowering the minimum age for criminal sentencing, introducing eight bills to the National Assembly to lower the age to 13 or 12.

However, these proposals faced resistance from the National Human Rights Committee of Korea and the National Court Administration.

Netizens express diverse views on whether children under 14 should be punished for their crimes

While a majority believes in holding the child accountable, one netizen suggests different punishments than those for adults.

Another emphasizes the importance of teaching children about the consequences of their actions to ensure accountability in adulthood.

A netizen proposes a one-year program away from home as a form of punishment for children under 10.

Some argue that if children cannot be punished, the responsibility should fall on the parents.

Others stress parental accountability, highlighting that young children may not comprehend the severity of their actions.

One netizen attributes the behaviour to upbringing.

A suggestion arises for mental health evaluations for the child.

Some argue that the children may not have intended harm, viewing their actions as innocent pranks.

In contrast, a netizen expresses disappointment with those advocating punishment, asserting that children lack the capacity to understand the impact of their actions.

Instead, the focus should be on evaluating the family and environment, followed by therapy for both children and parents.

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