Chinese teenagers sentenced to hard labour for bullying

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A young offender giving a speech at a school in China in May 2017

Teenage bullies – most of us know one, but is hard labour an appropriate punishment for offenders? Some social media users in China think so.

Young people in Beijing convicted of bullying can now be given sentences involving hard labour, in a move that has raised eyebrows on popular microblog Sina Weibo.

Fourteen girls aged 15 to 17 are currently involved in the five-to-seven day trial programme which began on Monday, and is run by the Tongzhou District People’s Court with local schools, according to local paper The Mirror. One student was given a sentence of one year and 10 months.

The Tongzhou District People's Court in Beijing launched the scheme on MondayImage copyrightTHE MIRROR
Image captionThe Tongzhou District People’s Court in Beijing launched the scheme on Monday

During the programme, young offenders take part in a gruelling course involving military training, after which schools assess whether they are fit to return to their studies or they should be expelled.

Over 5,000 social media users have commented about the scheme.

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Many applauded it as a way to tackle bullying, which one said has become “a social cancer”.

“This sentence is too light,” said ‘qianyuqianxun520’, an opinion that was widely echoed by others.

Another user added, “It is not enough to make them learn their lesson.”

‘DuiWoShi ParkChangJi’ said: “It is not as good as Yang Yongxin’s electro-convulsive therapy,” referring to one controversial Chinese psychiatrist’s methods used to treat antisocial behaviour in teenagers.

The new sentences was a popular topic of conversation on Chinese microblog WeiboImage copyrightSINA WEIBO
Image captionThe move to sentence bullies to hard labour was a popular topic of conversation on Chinese microblog Weibo

But one user insisted that the authorities are “doing a good job. These bullies are not being educated by their families and don’t have a good home education.”

The training is conducted under the supervision of the teenager’s parents, and offenders also take part in other activities, “such as listening to lectures and receiving psychological support,” Wei Dan from the Tongzhou District People’s Court told The Mirror.

“We arrange for them to undergo special military training on the first day, so that in future, they will be able to consciously abide by the school rules.” she added.

Some Weibo users warned that being forced to undergo military training might simply cause offenders to bully more.

One suggested offenders’ “bodies will be better” after the course, while another remarked, “after military training, they will only bully more.”

Footage circulating on social media in 2016 and 2017 caused concern in China about a rise in bullyingImage copyrightBTIME/TENCENT TV
Image captionFootage circulating on social media in 2016 and 2017 caused concern in China about a rise in bullying

But some feel the new scheme is too harsh.

“Speaking as a student, I think military training will be a really painful thing,” said one, while another commented, “How do kids nowadays see this? I feel sorry for them.”

A number of highly publicised incidents in China in recent years have contributed to a growing dissatisfaction about how it is tackled.

Social behaviour website What’s On Weibo noted a trend of extreme bullying videos appearing on social media in March 2016. One showed a number of students beating up people with steel pipes.

Source: Kerry Allen & Georgina Rannard @BBC.com

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