Justice Minister Kokichi Shimoinaba said March 10 that the issue of lowering the age at which minors who commit crimes can be punished should be included on the agenda of ongoing discussions among the Justice Ministry, the Supreme Court and the federation of bar associations.

His remark could affect the ministry’s long-standing policy of stressing rehabilitation for troubled youths rather than punishment.

The possible change may come amid a recent spate of knife attacks involving students across the country.

A junior high school student assaulted a classmate with a knife March 10 in Nagoya, one day after another student in Higashi Matsuyama, Saitama Prefecture, stabbed a 13-year-old boy to death.

In an attempt to stem the attacks, Education Minister Nobutaka Machimura issued an appeal March 10 asking children not to take knives to school.

“Those who have lost their lives will never come back again,” Machimura said at a news conference. “Let’s stop carrying knives.”

The public appeal was the first of its kind by an education minister since January 1996, when Mikio Okuda urged youths and parents to combat the problem of bullying at school after several children had committed suicide after being harassed in school.

At a regular news conference at the Justice Ministry, Shimoinaba called for more discussions on a possible revision of the Penal Code and reiterated that further consideration be given to lowering the age at which youths can be punished for crimes.

Under the code, juveniles aged 14 and older can be held responsible for crimes they have committed, but only juveniles aged 16 and older can be tried in criminal courts. Cases of those 15 years old and younger are handled in a family court and those found guilty are detained at juvenile correctional facilities.

Shimoinaba’s remark followed comments he made March 3 in which he said he has instructed ministry officials to consider revising the Juvenile Law to allow youths under 16 to be punished for crimes they have committed.

The ministry, the Supreme Court and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations have been meeting regularly to discuss possible changes to the Juvenile Law, such as whether to allow prosecutors to participate in family court hearings.

Also on March 10, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kanezo Muraoka called on the public to think of ways to deal with youth problems at home, at school and in society to help curb teen violence.

“It was shocking indeed to know that such incidents are happening one after the other,” Muraoka told a regular press conference.

Although the top government spokesman said the government will take steps to prevent the recurrence of such crimes, it seems that no measures have so far been effective.

Muraoka said all political parties concerned should jointly study the problem and consider ways to deal with it.

“It is not only educational reform that is being questioned, but also what kind of society we should have,” Muraoka said.

After a series of violent crimes involving youths earlier this year, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto set up a panel to discuss the behavior of young people.

The panel held its first meeting last week and next month will continue to discuss stabbings, drug abuse, bullying and other problems among the younger generation.

Other panels, such as the Central Council for Education, are also studying the problem.

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