Thursday, June 23, 2011 Shake-up for juvenile law after sex case



Shake-up for juvenile law after sex case

Reforms to be implemented as soon as possible after teenager sentenced for 'disgusting' assault on a five-year-old in hospital's children's ward

Hong Kong is preparing a landmark change in its laws that will make it possible for children under the age of 14 to be charged with rape.

The move comes after a magistrate yesterday described existing laws on juveniles and serious sex offences as "wholly and manifestly inadequate" as she sentenced a 13-year-old boy to a reformatory for a "disgusting" sexual attack on a five-year-old girl in a hospital ward.

In general, criminal liability in Hong Kong starts at the age of 10. However, at present there is a legal presumption that a boy under 14 is incapable of sexual intercourse.

Following a recommendation by the Law Reform Commission, that presumption will now be abolished.

Magistrate Adriana Tse, sitting in Eastern District's juvenile court, sentenced the boy to an unspecified term for indecent assault. She also called for a review of which courts should deal with children accused of serious sex offences and said boys and girls should be placed in different hospital wards.

Tse said she understood that rehabilitation was the main aim of the laws dealing with juveniles, but added: "[Now], youngsters are capable of the most heinous crimes."

In response to questions about Tse's comments, a spokesman for the Security Bureau said: "The Security Bureau is working with the Department of Justice on arrangements for amending the legislation with a view to implementing the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission as soon as possible."

The girl was molested in the children's ward of Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in September. Her parents reported the attack to police. A medical report submitted at an earlier court hearing detailed injuries that did not rule out the possibility she had been raped.

Sentencing the boy, Tse said: "I am disgusted by this case." She said she found it shocking that boys and girls were put in the same ward until the age of 18.

"It is well known that teenagers begin to be curious with sex."

The magistrate said the boy had smirked and smiled when he talked to a probation officer and, while on bail, had committed another, less serious offence. She did not accept a mitigation report that the boy - from another Asian country - was remorseful and helpless in a new culture. "You just do whatever you like ... reform school is the only option there," she said.

The boy, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, kept his head bowed throughout the proceedings.

Last year's Law Reform Commission report highlighted the present case, stating that the boy had been charged with indecent assault as the current presumption prevented his being charged with rape.

Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital said a review on putting boys and girls in the same ward was conducted immediately after the incident. "According to clinical and practical needs, boys and girls will be arranged in different wards as far as possible," a spokesman said, Nursing staff would also closely monitor the situation in the wards.

Law Society criminal law and procedure committee chairman Stephen Hung Wan-shun said: "The priority in sentencing any young offenders aged under 16 is rehabilitation. No matter in which court the trial of the boy takes place ... rehabilitation is still the main objective. Unless there is no other alternative, it is unlikely he will be thrown into jail."

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