The Justice Ministry is seeking to eliminate the lower age limit for detention at reformatories and to define police rights to investigate criminal cases involving children under 14, government sources said Tuesday.

The ministry’s pursuit of legal revisions in the field of juvenile crime comes amid mounting public concern over an increase in serious offenses committed by juveniles aged 13 or younger. The latter cannot be punished under the Penal Code and are exempt from conventional police investigations.

Under the current Juvenile Training School Law, only juveniles aged 14 or older can be placed in reformatories.

The ministry will ask the Legislative Council in September to discuss the matter and to draft legislation aimed at revising related laws as soon as possible.

The ministry may also establish a stricter legal system for juveniles released on probation.

For juveniles who are under supervision but refuse to follow rules and ignore warnings given by probation offices, family courts would be able to send them to correctional facilities.

Family courts usually decide to place juveniles in appropriate facilities — reformatories, self-support or child-care homes — or to keep them on probation without sending them to these facilities, depending on the severity of their crimes.

Placing a juvenile in a reformatory is the most severe punishment, though many people in judicial circles argue that offenders under the age of 14 should be put in reformatories when they require correction at an early stage.

The ministry may place offenders who are aged 13 or younger in reformatories by creating a new provision in the Juvenile Training School Law to authorize their detention “when deemed especially necessary,” the sources said.

It also aims to clarify the investigative rights of police with regard to crimes committed by those under 14, thereby allowing them to carry out raids, seize evidence and conduct crime-scene inspections.

The ministry has been studying the revisions by establishing an in-house project team in the wake of the murder of a 4-year-old boy by a 12-year-old boy in July 2003 in Nagasaki Prefecture.

The older boy, a junior high school student, pushed the 4-year-old off the roof of an eight-story parking garage after molesting him.

The Nagasaki Family Court later sent the boy to a special facility that helps children adapt to society.

Meanwhile, an 11-year-old girl killed a 12-year-old classmate in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, last June. The girl admitted slashing her classmate’s throat with a retractable paper cutter in an empty classroom during the school lunch hour.

The family court authorized a psychiatric examination of the 11-year-old.

Juveniles under 14 in Japan are subject to the Child Welfare Law. Police are obliged to send cases of this kind to local child consultation offices if they believe they cannot count on parental supervision of the child.

The consultation offices conclude whether to send cases to family courts or place offenders in special juvenile facilities.

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