China’s justice system doesn’t know what to do with 12-year-old murderer, so now he’s free

Society & Culture

Earlier this week, news broke that a 12-year-old boy in Hunan Province stabbed his mother to death over an argument about his smoking. The story dominated headlines in Chinese media as horrifying details surfaced: The boy, surnamed Wú 吴, told local police that he deserved forgiveness because he “didn’t kill anyone else, only his mom.” Yesterday, the controversy reached a fever pitch, as reports (in Chinese) that Wu has been released and will return to school in the near future.

According to the education authorities of Yiyang, Wu was freed without charge because he was too young to be detained or sent to juvenile prison. Local officials said that the initial plan was to get Wu back to his original school. But due to strong opposition from parents of Wu’s former classmates, who voiced concerns about their children’s safety, the local government is working on an alternate plan, which is likely to send Wu to a new school where “no one knows him.” In the meantime, teachers from Wu’s old school will offer him private tutoring services.

Many internet users thought the parents’ concerns were justified, considering Wu’s unusual composure while killing his mother and his unapologetic attitude afterwards. It was reported that on December 2, he stabbed his mother more than 20 times. He then stayed at home with his 2-year-old brother, and used his mother’s phone to ask his school for sick leave. Wu even managed to hide the crime from his grandfather when he visited by saying that his mother was out for work. But on the morning of December 3, Wu’s neighbor grew suspicious, and called the police.

When interviewed by, Wu’s father, a migrant worker who only visits home twice a year, said that the teen seemed calm after being released, adding that he had “mixed feelings” about the murder. They’ve been living in a hotel recently out of fear of hostility from their neighbors and acquaintances.

China’s criminal laws stipulate that minors below the age of 14 will not face criminal responsibility for offenses. Meanwhile, juvenile correctional facilities only accept teenagers aged 14 to 18. How to prosecute minors who commit major crimes has long been a contentious topic among educators and legal experts in China.

To further complicate the issue, China has seen a spike in juvenile crime in recent years. A report released by a Beijing court last year revealed that among all court cases involving minors from 2010 to 2017, nearly 15 percent were crimes committed by teenagers under 16. There has been debate about lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12, but no action has been taken as of yet.