Sun, Nov 18, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Attaching labels will help nobody

By Lee Yung-ching 李湧清

The Ministry of the Interior recently announced that it is considering revisions to regulations governing the prevention of juvenile delinquency. The changes would attempt to clarify the definition "delinquent" by adding a new set of activities such as dropping out of school or attending the funerals of gang members to the definition.

The regulations were originally created in 1972 and revised in 1999. All in all, there is still much to consider in terms of the contents of this administrative order.

The prime candidate for scrutiny is the idea of an "early warning" system. In our society, the original motivation is often lost through unintentional administration and it appears the "early warning" system could have unintended consequences. Quite simply, these regulations were originally directed toward delinquent behavior in juveniles. Yet, in reality, they instead become a means of labeling people "juvenile delinquents." The implications of the difference between the two is immeasurable.

While "delinquent behavior" demarcates certain types of behavior, the term "juvenile delinquent" is a judgment on personal identity, a label.

Most important, once the label has been applied, it becomes impossible to remove.

Meanwhile, most people probably would not even know how it was determined or what it entails. Its effects, however, are far reaching, hence the need for prudence.

Strictly speaking, most of the 15 types of delinquent behavior are conceptual rather than concretely defined. They are abstract in that they do not have stable connotations and may differ with personal interpretation. For instance, to behave rudely or arrogantly toward elders, parents or teachers -- what exactly constitutes arrogance? It would be difficult to reach a consensus. This is why legal academics often criticize the formulation of inaccurate legal concepts.

I won't even discuss here whether quitting school constitutes "delinquent" behavior, but most of us would be startled at being labeled a "juvenile delinquent" simply for driving a car or a scooter without a driver's license.

There is also room for discussing whether other activities, such as wandering around late at night, running away from home or school, fighting without going so far so as to cause bodily harm, owning pornographic pictures, texts, videos, CDs or publications, etc, should be considered grounds for the "juvenile delinquent" label.

In all fairness, most youths have committed the above offenses, but context, frequency and degree make all the difference. If authorities are not cautious now, the future of youngsters could be ruined by this legislation.

Late night wanderings, running way from home or school, like dropping out, are likely to be symptoms of problems originating at home or at school. To force teenagers to take the responsibility for these actions is to allow adults to escape their responsibility. Hence these regulations and the definition of delinquent behavior must be carefully reconsidered.

Lee Yung-ching is a professor at the Nanya Institute of Technology.

Translated by Angela Hong

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