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An 8-Year-Old Schoolgirl's Murder Has Taiwan Debating the Death Penalty

A sign in Taiwan's airport warns that drug trafficking is punishable by death in Taiwan. Photo by Flickr user Eddie Gustavsson. CC BY-NC 2.0

A sign in Taiwan's airport warns that drug trafficking is punishable by death in Taiwan. Photo by Flickr user Eddie Gustavsson. CC BY-NC 2.0

The murder of an 8-year-old girl has recently sparked a heated debate about capital punishment in Taiwan.

The schoolgirl, called “Little Girl Liu” by local media outlets, was killed by an intruder in her elementary school. The suspected attacker, later identified by Taipei police as 29-year-old Kung Chung-an, randomly picked her as his victim when she went alone to use the restroom. He told the police that he did it because she seemed to be the easiest target he could tackle and that the voices in his head, which he says have spoken to him for a long period of time, told him to do it.

The death penalty was similarly put under the spotlight last year when a 21-year-old thrill seeker killed four innocent people in the city's metro and was sentenced to death for the act of violence.

The majority of Taiwanese are in favor of the death penalty and that strongly influences their decision on who they vote for at the polls. According to a recent online poll, 81% of those that voted did not want to abolish capital punishment. Hence, despite having ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the government continues to allow capital punishment be an option for crimes such as murder, treason and kidnapping (in practice, however, the majority of crimes that receive the death penalty are murders). The state's current execution method is by shooting.

This latest murder poses a great challenge to the movement to abolish the death penalty advocated by many local human rights groups. As a result of the renewed public debate, human rights activists have taken to the Internet to remind the public that the death penalty would likely not have prevented another killing like this from happening.

As the Taiwan Alliance to End the Death Penalty expressed in a recent press statement:

「當我們凝視暴力,我們必須停止以施暴者的邏輯來回應暴力。冷靜下來,把多餘的標籤撕下,才能阻止任何人成為不在乎一死而施暴的人。 」…在這樣令人心痛的時候,台灣人民別無選擇,只能一起面對,共同找出度過這些社會危機的方式。

Once we are faced with violence, we must cease using violent responses to respond to an aggressor. We need to calmly remove the labels in order to stop individuals from becoming careless about death and violence… In this painful moment, the Taiwanese people have no choice but to come together and face this crisis collectively, finding ways to overcome it.

On the other hand, “Object to Abolition of Death Penalty”, a pro-death penalty group on Facebook, called for rallies in front of the country’s legislative body for continuing capital punishment and to urge stricter regulation against offenders. Some believe all those convicted of killing children or committing mass murder should receive death penalty.

Amid fierce online debate between the pro- and anti-capital punishment clan, many choose to remain neutral on the topic. An online user surnamed Huang commented:


In regards to the topic of abolishing or not the death penalty, I personally have not thought about it deeply, but reading both sides’ perspectives, I feel that the Alliance to End the Death Penalty seems to have a more profound and logical explanation and the pro-death penalty thinking seems to be more superficial and emotional. Yet, I have not made up my mind yet as to what is the best way to do it.

  • mollycruz

    Since killing people is frowned upon, some say sends you to Hell; criminals dealt the death penalty must kill themselves; to avoid incriminating yet another person. A cup of Hemlock will do…

  • Claudio Giusti

    The Death penalty has a strong anti-deterrent effect. The American cases of Jeremy
    Vargas Sagastegui and Thomas Akers are clear examples.

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