A teenage offender tells his story at a middle school in East China’s Zhejiang Province in December, 2004. Photo: VCG

 The policy of sealing juvenile criminal records sparked controversy on Chinese social media on Wednesday after authorities in East China’s Zhejiang Province refined the policy to further protect the interests of young offenders.

Twelve departments in Zhejiang jointly issued a document on Wednesday specifying that the criminal records of juvenile offenders would not be accessible during their education and early employment. It said that courts, procuratorates, public security organs and judicial administrative organs should seal up the criminal records of minors who were less than 18 years old at the time of their crimes and sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years or exempted from criminal punishment.

Criminal information management authorities may face penalties if they illegally access the criminal records of minors.

However, the decision drew a lot of opposition on social media, out of people’s concern that the move may encourage worse behavior.  

In 2014, Zhejiang took the lead in sealing juvenile criminal records. According to statistics from the People’s Procuratorate of Zhejiang, 145 juveniles who have been admitted to universities since 2016 had their criminal records sealed in a timely manner.

The policy of sealing juvenile criminal records was written into China’s Criminal Procedure Law in 2012 in order to encourage the rehabilitation of young offenders. 

Improper disclosure of information about juvenile delinquency may lead to their employment being blocked and their chances of rehabilitation being endangered, Hu Donglin, the deputy chief procurator at the People’s Procuratorate of Zhejiang, was quoted as saying by People’s Daily.

But in a poll of nearly 5,000 people on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, about 76.5% said the measure has more disadvantages than advantages.

“This rule seems to make minors an exempt group for crimes, which is unfair to the victims,” a netizen commented. 

Netizens suggested that whether to seal the records should depend on the severity and circumstances of the crime. Crimes of a serious nature should perhaps not be sealed, in order to hold youthful offenders more accountable for their behavior.

Experts suggested that the sealing of juvenile criminal records should be further defined, and that policy makers should find a balance between competing interests: those of the community and those of the offenders.

“This move mainly reflects the principle of giving priority to the education of juvenile offenders,” Zheng Ziyin, director of the minor-protection legal committee under the Guangdong Lawyers’ Association, told the Global Times. “But a one-size-fits-all legal policy is not scientific. For example, criminal records related to violent crimes and sexual assaults should be conditionally sealed.”

“If the offender is engaged in work related to a minor as an adult, his or her criminal record should be considered properly,” Zheng said.