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Decapitation of a young girl in Taipei renews a national debate on capital punishment

On March 28th, reports began circulating about a violent crime that shocked Taipei. A four-year-old girl was seized and decapitated by a man wielding a meat cleaver in broad daylight, only a short distance away from her mother. The girl and her mother had been on their way to the metro station to visit a relative. The mother tried to pull the man off of her daughter, but was unable to. By the time passersby intervened, the child had perished. This senseless crime immediately sparked public outrage and breathed new life into the campaign for capital punishment. Below is a photo of the makeshift memorial for the girl near the scene of her death, filled with toys and flowers.

It is completely understandable for the people of Taiwan to react to this crime with anger. The perpetrator should be properly punished for prematurely extinguishing the life of a four-year-old girl. However, the girl’s mother has pleaded that activists not turn her daughter’s death into a debate about the capital punishment. Reports have long shown that a majority of Taiwanese support the death penalty. Past cases have demonstrated that Taiwanese people are especially enraged when the victims of crimes are young children. This is a perfectly natural response of people who are mothers and fathers, or even those who are not.

And yet there are those within Taiwanese society that see capital punishment as something that has been utilized in the past by the government to quell public anger. Capital punishment has been shown to have a low effect on the level of crime and murders. As an example, researchers found very little difference in the murder rates between Hong Kong (which abolished death penalty in 1993) and Singapore. Furthermore, DNA testing in numerous countries has shown that many innocent people have been wrongfully convicted of heinous offenses. Putting someone in jail is reversible, killing them is not. The new government under Tsai Ing-wen will have to decide going forward if they will treat the topic of capital punishment in Taiwan rationally.

To read more about this issue, click here and here.

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