Juvenile Corrections in Macau

Juvenile Corrections in Macau

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Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) is small in area size and population. It covers only 29.5 square kilometres and has approximately 542,200 residents as of 2011 (Zheng & Hung, 2012). Its culture represents a combination of Chinese civilizations and Western culture typified by gaming economic activity. In fact, it ranks amongst the few economies in the world that have depended greatly on the legalization of gambling for more than a century now. The decision to legalize gambling in 2002 accelerated the area’s economic growth significantly drawing the interest of international economies in addition to that of neighbouring countries, such as Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan, which contemplated following the same direction taken by the Macau SAR government (Vong & McCartney, 2005). With the economic growth in Macau SAR also came a surge in juvenile delinquency (van Schalkwyk & Kay Chang, 2006).

Under Chinese law, delinquency entails all the offences committed by persons aged between 14 and 25 years old. Occasionally, a differentiation is made between juvenile delinquents and youth delinquents, whereby the former denotes crimes by persons aged between 14 and 17 years while the latter increases the age to include up to 25 years. However, the Juvenile Protection Law of 1991 (JPL) designates juvenile delinquency to people aged below 18 years (Wong, 1999).

Official statistics equated the incidence of youth delinquent to 19 acts per 100,000 in 1965 (Wong, 1999). This incidence increased by threefold to 57 acts by 1979. Importantly, delinquency increased from constituting 22% of the total crime to 61.2% by 1980 (Bakken, 1993, p. 38). This upward trend accelerated disproportionately to 300 acts per 100,000 youth constituting 65% of total crimes committed in 1992 (China Law Year Book, 1993, p. 899). In Macau, 45 cases of juvenile delinquency were reported in 2016, which constituted 2 cases less than those reported in the previous year (Zandonal, 2017). The highest proportion of the offenders was boys. This paper discusses the laws, regulations, or practices related to juvenile delinquency, and reviews the previous research studies on the topic with a specific focus on Macau SAR. In addition, the essay summarizes the identified studies about juvenile delinquency and evaluates them to reveal the recurring themes to analyze them in relation to practice and the laws. Then the paper finally discusses the issues, comments, or suggestions for policy and future research.

Related laws/regulations/practices

The legal system of Macau SAR is based on a strong tradition of compliance with the rule of law and judicial autonomy. Based on the principle of “one country, two systems” the Macau SAR has maintained its pre-Handover legal structure founded on Continental European law. The Reformatory for Juvenile Delinquents in Macau SAR is under the Legal Affairs Bureau.

Among the committee’s concerns was the solitary confinement of juvenile delinquents aged 12 years and younger up to a month. They proposed that Macau SAR should ensure that juvenile prisons should not subject people aged less than 18 years to solitary confinement except in very special cases, which should be monitored closely. In accordance with such concerns, Macau SAR ensures that solitary confinement is applied limitedly and as the last resort consistent with international standards.  Macau SAR law provides for confinement restricted to exceptional cases expressly provided in the law, which underscores it as the last resort, requires its application to be limited, and that the confined delinquent is closely monitored.

The Director of the Justice Affairs Bureau issued an order prohibiting “… any disciplinary measure that could be interpreted as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, including the measure of solitary confinement…” (CAT/C/MAC/CO/4, 2008). In the same vein, the educational supervision regime for juvenile delinquency – Law 2.2007, states that when juvenile delinquency under confinement at the Young Offenders Institute commits an offence, the institute may apply the corresponding security measures, including placement in an isolated sleeping room for less than a month.

Further, the committee asserted that the decision to place a young offender under confinement in an individual sleeping room is taken with considerable regard to the weight of the offense, the personality, and the behaviour of the offender. This action should only be implemented against offences that are serious and when other measures are deemed insufficient to rectify effectively juvenile delinquency. The execution of the measure means placing the juvenile delinquent to sleep in his own room in the evening rather than in one of the collective rooms to allow him or her to reflect upon his or her offense. The confinement measure, however, does not prevent the young offender from being accompanied and counselled consistent with his or her education needs. Alternatively, he or she is free to interact with other juvenile delinquents in curricular or extra-curricular activities in the daytime. Of note, the Young Offenders Institutes must reduce to the shortest time possible any confinement of a young offender considering his or her attitude of repentance and change in behaviour (CAT/C/MAC/CO/4, 2008).

Review of the Previous Studies on Topic (Literature Review)

Limited studies have been conducted on juvenile delinquency in the Macau SAR area of the People’s Republic of China because crimes related to young offenders were not given much attention by the Chinese government in the past. Nevertheless, a few scholars undertook some studies to investigate the profile of juvenile delinquency in Macau given the rise in the cases involving young offenders. This section will discuss most of the studies conducted in the area.

Juvenile delinquency has been on the rise in Macau SAR since the government relaxed its restrictions on gaming. By the third quarter of 2005, 114 crimes involving 218 adolescents were reported in the region. This rise constituted a 7.6% increase to 25.3% from the previous year (van Schalkwyk & Kay Chang, 2006). According to the findings of a study by the Social Welfare Institute (cited in van Schalkwyk & Kay Chang, 2006), 30 % of the adolescents in Macau have committed an offense, such as stealing, vandalism, and fighting. Further, van Schalkwyk and Chang (2006) observed that gang crimes are very common and the site of the crime includes even school premises. Most of the court cases involved minors and related to such crimes as shoplifting, stealing, and fighting in public with family background and peers implicated in the crime.

Gang-related and anti-social behaviours exemplify the lives of adolescents that are undergoing the psychosocial process of forming self-identity. Such vice appears to be exacerbated by several factors, including unhealthy parent-child relationships, and inadequate moral education from parents or guardians. Society often labels these kids negatively. Therefore, schools and society should take over basic education from the parents (van Schalkwyk & Chang, 2006). In this regard, churches can help in developing the morale of the youth.

Different research studies have varied research questions. In 2010, Kofler-Westergren, Klopf, and Mitterauer examined the risk factors for young offenders within family organization, personality, and diagnostic parameters in 75 children and adolescents who committed an offense or offenses and who were referred for forensic evaluation. The study demonstrated significant adverse family characteristics. The findings of the study specifically revealed that 20% of the young offenders did not know their father because he did not live with the family, 66% had a father whom they could not spend time with, while 25% had an alcoholic father (Kofler-Westergren et al., 2010). The most serious consequences were reported in 32 offenders who grew up with just their mothers with whom they had an unhealthy relationship. This group of juvenile delinquents manifested conduct disorder (CD), alcohol abuse, and paternal alcoholism more than those young offenders who experienced father deprivation but healthy relationships with their mothers.

Comparing violent and nonviolent groups of juvenile delinquents, more of the offenders in the former subgroups exhibited substance abuse than in the latter (Kofler-Westergren et al., 2010). In addition, violent offenders were more deprived of their fathers and exhibited conduct disorders than juvenile offenders who committed non-violent crimes. Lastly, multivariate analyses of all the variables revealed a synchrony of the risk factors involved in violent juvenile delinquency (Kofler-Westergren et al., 2010). The risk factors involved were typically psychological and included family psychopathology, such as father deprivation, alcoholic father, and negative relationship with the mother; conduct disorder; and substance abuse among the youth delinquent. These authors discussed the function of protective influences and consequences for intervention programs and prognosis.

Leong Mei Yun (2011) studied the contribution of family supervision styles and practices on juvenile delinquency in Macau. The study was based on the assumption that family is the main agent of socialization and that parental supervision has a strong effect on juvenile delinquency. The effects of juvenile delinquency injure both the victim as well as the community. As a result, increased efforts to mitigate the social problem have been mobilized among government agencies, juvenile justice systems, and policymakers. Although past research studies were conducted to describe the problem in Macau SRA. Studies to investigate the role of family supervision in crimes related to juveniles are essential for insight into techniques to mitigate vice. In this vein, Leong Mei Yun (2011) chose an empirical research design to answer his research question. The participants of the study were 148 students who were in Form 1 through Form 6. The aim of the study was to find out the effects of various family variables including attachment, pressure, structure, size, support, and parental assessment of children on inclination to delinquency. The results of the study revealed that family support, attachment, and structure were mainly related to the tendency for delinquency, while poor parental assessment, family pressure, and size of the family did not correlate with juvenile delinquency. In part, this study was consistent with the findings by Leng (2012) about the major contribution of peers to the inclination to delinquency.

Juvenile delinquency is dependent on social factors. Specifically, peers and families are identified as essential factors that drive children and youth to commit crimes, including very serious crimes such as homicide. Scholars have suggested the contribution of weak social controls on behaviours and delinquency of juveniles. Specifically, weaker social bonds have been implicated in a higher inclination of children to engage in delinquency and antisocial behaviours (Leng, 2012). Socializing with delinquent peers itself can reinforce the criminal tendency of adolescents as some studies have attempted to prove the adverse relationship between negative peer and family interaction. On top of that, the study proposes to compare the role of peers or parental control in explaining delinquency. Leng (2012) used a sample of 386 respondents comprising youth aged between 11 and 20 years who were enrolled in different high schools within Macau SAR. The findings of the study revealed that parental attachment and supervision, or heightened social control reduced the risk of young individuals engaging in crime. Conversely, the study revealed that socializing with delinquent peers promotes delinquency among potential young offenders. Noteworthy, delinquent peers are the strongest determining factor for juvenile delinquency because after controlling for confounding factors, such as gender, age, family system, and socioeconomic status, the subjects engaged in crime because of involvement with delinquent peers. These results underscore the role deficient parental attachment plays in status offenses, but not delinquency. Notably, parental supervision no longer influences delinquency and status offenses in the integrative model (Leng, 2012).

Specific research studies and ordinary reports have highlighted the economic benefits of liberalizing gambling in Macau. Such studies have just mentioned juvenile delinquency as a possible negative effect on the community of Macau SAR; none has investigated the relationship between gambling and juvenile delinquency in Macau. For example, Zheng and Huang (2011) undertook a study to assess the economic impact of the gaming sector after Macau SAR liberalized the gaming sector. These researchers analyzed the data of official statistics and perceptions of the individuals and groups about life, revealing a mix of advantages to the community (Zheng & Huang, 2011). The interpretation of statistical data contradicted that of residents’ perceptions. On the one hand, objective data indicated strong growth in the economy characterized by an increase in per capita GDP and revenues, and a reduced unemployment rate, but locals of the Macau SAR region expressed less optimism regarding their employment prospects and unchanged overall economic status on the other. However, this study failed to capture the reality of the situation at the low level of society, particularly the unemployed residents of the area. In fact, the study focused on residents who were employed directly or indirectly in the gaming industry. A rise in crime including those involving youth and children was among the issues over which the public was concerned. Other issues include labour importation, the exploding property market, exacerbating gambling issues, and social order regarded as serious threats to the local residents (Zheng et al. 2011). In fact, the study by Zheng and colleagues (2011) highlighted that the social cost may counter the economic advantages associated with the decision to liberalize gambling.

                                                          Summary of the Studies

            The studies discussed above highlight various aspects of juvenile delinquency at Macau SAR. One of the studies describes the trend in crimes committed by young offenders. It indicates the prevalence and incidence of juvenile delinquency in the region. From the study, it is clear that the prevalence and incidence of crimes committed by youth and children of Macau SAR are high, which has significant social costs on society. The study also affirms that most crimes committed by children and youth are gang crimes. Also, the study revealed the most common crimes committed by young offenders are fighting and different forms of theft, including shoplifting, burglary, and stealing.

Other studies have investigated specific risk factors for juvenile delinquency (Kofler-Westergren et al., 2010; Leong Mei Yun, 2011; Leng, 2012). Family structure, attachment, and support have been shown to play a significant role in determining the tendency of a child to be delinquent (Leng, 2012). These studies have highlighted the role family psychopathology plays in the prevalence of delinquency. The findings of the studies emphasize the role father deprivation and adverse family structure play in determining the delinquency of a youth. These studies used high school students as samples for conducting their research. They underscored the importance of parent presence in determining the delinquency tendency of a youth. In particular, the role the father figure plays in determining whether a child becomes a delinquent was emphasized (Kofler-Westergren et al., 2010). Three characteristics of the father-child relationship were described and their relation to delinquency. Absence of the father was shown to have comparatively less effect on delinquency tendency than an alcoholic father, which in turn was lower than father deprivation. However, the status of the father figure has a generally greater impact on an adolescent’s delinquency (Kofler-Westergren et al., 2010). Other studies investigated the role of social factors on youth engagement in crime, with weaker social bonds being implicated in the likelihood of youth engaging in crime. Leng showed that socializing with delinquent peers increased the chances for youth to engage in crime.

Conclusion: Issues, Comments, or Suggestions for Policy and Research

In conclusion, it is clear that juvenile delinquency arises from the interplay of multiple social factors, which in turn depend on political and economic factors. Family structure and attachment appear to have the greatest influence on youth’s tendency to commit crimes. In this light, therefore, schools should teach social skills to help young learners gain skills for interacting with peers and avoiding crimes. Community centres should also be established and adequately funded to help parents struggling with parenting understand the importance of a healthy family structure, attachment, and support. Juvenile correctional facilities should teach socialization skills to young offenders under their custody.


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Kofler-Westergren, B., Klopf, J. & Mitterauer, B. (2010). Juvenile delinquency: Father absence, conduct disorder, and substance abuse as risk factor triad. International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, 9(1), 33-43.

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