Failing youth and the victims of crime

by Ryuichiro Hosokawa

The whole nation was shocked by the hijacking of a bus in the middle of the “Golden Week” holiday season. And it was a 17-year-old boy who seized the bus and killed one passenger.

Many heinous crimes have been committed by teenagers recently: Another 17-year-old boy murdered an elderly woman in Toyokawa City, Aichi Prefecture, In Nagoya, a group of teenagers swindled 50 million yen out of their friend.

What prompted these youngsters to commit such serious crimes? When I saw the scene of the bus hijacking on television, I felt as though I was watching a movie.

The murderer in Toyokawa City is said to have told police that he wanted to “have an experience of murdering.” That is nothing more than a murder game transferred to the real world.

During the past decade, video games have become increasingly sophisticated and gained great popularity among junior high- and high-school students, who are at an age when they are learning basic social skills and are very impressionable.

I am not saying every child who plays video games is bad, nor would I tell children to stop playing such games. I do say, however, that the parents are accountable for their children’s deeds and that some failed to take up the responsibility of educating their children.

Children must be taught to love their family, be nice to their friends, respect their teachers and hold human life in high esteem. Children are an indispensable asset for the future. Now is the time for us to reconsider the basics of education in order to bring up fine people.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, whose background is in education, is an expert in this field. In his policy speech before the National Diet, he said he was determined to give top priority to educational reform. I hope he will live up to his words.

The 17-year-olds involved in the recent crimes are subject to criminal prosecution because the Juvenile Law states that anybody can be punished for a criminal act once he or she reaches the age of 16. I do not think this is sufficient. In the United States, the minimum age for criminal prosecution is seven; in Britain and France, it is 10 and 13, respectively. I am not proposing that the minimum age in Japan be lowered that much, but I do think it should be lowered to 15. I say so because in the old days, every Japanese boy celebrated the attainment of manhood at the age of 15 and was treated as an adult thereafter. A Japanese boy of 15 today is physically grown up and has completed compulsory education.

I do not approve of the way the police handled the bus hijacking. The end came when the Special Assault Team stormed the bus and rescued all 10 people on board, including the driver, who had been held hostage. But there was an important lesson.

I doubt if top priority was given to saving the lives of the helpless hostages. It was most unfortunate that one passenger had already been murdered. If law enforcement officers’ consideration of the human rights of the culprit had been even more excessive, further tragedies could have occurred. In the U.S., a sniper would have shot the man. Many in Japan who watched the crime on TV must have wondered why the police did not kill him. If you had been the parent of a girl held at knife-point, you surely would have hoped that the police would kill the offender.

The reason why the police did not shoot him was that the Law Concerning Execution of Duties of Police Officials bans the use of a weapon except in self-defense. That left the officers with no choice but to persuade the criminal, and that is why it took more than 15 hours to make the arrest.

It is ridiculous to protect the rights of the offender, but not those of the hostages. If the protection of the hostages had been foremost in the minds of the police, they should have shot the man. But they did not, even though there were opportunities to do so when the bus twice stopped at parking areas. The provisions constraining police action are not right, and must be amended immediately. Politicians must translate the lessons that have been learned into action.