• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Wednesday 23rd February, 2011

East and West – signs of hope in the wake of atrocities

“Adults have become more like children, and children more like adults.” So lamented two Japanese writers grappling to understand a horrific murder of a child (Jun Hase) by another child in Japan in 1997. Indeed, the entire nation wondered whether a widespread and significant societal breakdown was to blame or whether the murder was simply an anomaly. This was the same question on the mind of another nation, Britain, when two boys brutally murdered another boy, James Bulger, in 1993.David Smith of Lancaster University in the UK and Kiyoko Sueda of Aoyama Gakuin University in Japan, recently reviewed the two cases, sifting through the details for telling differences and similarities.In both countries, the deaths led to a public outcry which, in turn, led to legal reforms. Japan lowered the age of criminal responsibility to 14. Britain used the case as justification for more punitive legislation on juvenile offenders. Interestingly, in Britain, the discussions prompted by the killings also led to a reaffirmation of the importance of rehabilitation.Smith and Sueda note that the hunger for revenge was stronger in Britain than in Japan. They describe the angry crowd present when the boys first appeared in court and quote the murdered boy's parents’ vows to hunt down their son’s killers after they were released. Although fear and anger among the public was also quite pronounced in Japan, the authors describe the murderer’s offers of apology and reparation to his victim’s family and their acceptance of these offers. The most significant similarity according to Smith and Sueda is that, despite widespread laments about the disintegration of traditional morals and key institutions (families and schools chief among them) and loss of faith in rehabilitation, the two cases actually show the strength of modern ideas and policies. When the article was first released in 2008, the perpetrators appeared to have been successfully rehabilitated. Smith and Sueda credit the psychiatric, psychological, and educational methods that were used in both countries to bring about the change. They also applaud the Lord Chief Justice’s decision to keep the English boys out of regular prison, an experience which might have aggravated their problems. Smith and Sueda thus see hope where others see hopelessness. They end their article by calling for a renewed faith in our ability to heal even the most troubled of children.[See also:Will UK politicians get the message on child murder?]• Summary of “The killing of children by children as a symptom of national crisis: Reactions in Britain and Japan” by David Smith and Kiyoko Sueda in Criminology and Criminal Justice, 2008, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 5-25.

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