(Note: Published with permission from Child Rights Network (CRN). Child Rights Network (CRN) is the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines. CRN has a membership of 46 organizations across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao).
NOT 9, NOT 12: House vote to lower minimum age of criminal responsibility against the best interest of Filipino children
23 January 2019 – Today, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly and hastily approved a bill that lowers that minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 12 years old, amending the current Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (JJWA). Senate is expected to also approve of its version soon. The bill is yet another attempt of Congress, under the leadership of Gloria Arroyo and Tito Sotto, and the Duterte Administration to revert all the positive gains under the JJWA and to trample on the rights of the children, the very sector it vows to protect.
Proponents of the bill claim that the proposed law aims to address the problem of children being used by criminal and drug syndicates to carry out criminal activities. Under this bill, children from ages 12 to 18 who commit serious crimes like murder, homicide, rape and violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 will be sent to reformative institutions called “Bahay Pag-asa.”
International and local groups and organizations advocating for the rights of the children have already expressed their disappointment and fierce opposition to the proposed law, calling it an act of violence against children. Advocates have also expressed their concern on the severe conditions of youth care facilities around the country and their doubt that these could adequately and effectively cater to the needs of the children in conflict with the law (CICL).
The Child Rights Network (CRN) firmly believes that lowering the MACR goes against the best interest of Filipino children. It is not the solution to both the problems of children being involved in and children being used for criminal activities. This proposed measure is anti-poor, anti-human rights, and anti-children. Apart from being plainly absurd, this measure is also unfounded, misguided, and uncalled for. Data from the Philippine National Police show that only 1.72% of reported crimes are committed by children. Furthermore, subjecting these children to the country’s flawed justice system and to the arduous judicial process is utterly inhumane and would traumatize them for the rest of their lives. These children are already victims of the harsh environment and society that they live in. Approving this proposed law will just further victimize them as they would be dehumanized and stigmatized, impeding their rights to survival and development opportunities.
A great deal of studies have shown that criminalizing children leads to recidivism. Detention and/or incarceration of children have also been linked to adverse effects on a child’s mental, physical and emotional development, as they are likely to be subjected to discrimination and abuse while detained. Furthermore, jailing children deny them of opportunities for advancement through education, and future employment. The proposals to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility also ignore scientific evidence that a child’s brain is still structurally and functionally immature and reaches full maturity at the age of 25.
The Child Rights Network, together with other child’s rights advocacy groups, vehemently opposes the bill and reiterates its call to retain the current MACR. Rather than lowering it, the government should instead focus on strengthening the implementation of the JJWA and on improving the facilities for children in conflict with the law. CRN further believes that rehabilitation is still the more effective and sound solution to the increasing number of child offenders. Evidence shows that these measures are effective in restoring and reintegrating children to the community, as documented by child rights advocates.
CRN also calls on all legislators to address the root causes of the problem instead of targeting the children.
Finally, CRN enjoins everyone to remain vigilant with all the development in the proposed law and to strongly resist all attacks against the rights of the children.
Children are not criminals. The real criminals are those who use and exploit the children to engage in criminal activities. The real criminals are those in the government who blatantly disregard and step on the rights of children in exchange of political gains. These are the real criminals that should be punished and be put in jail. ###
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CRN had issued a previous position statement when Congress first proposed lowering MACR to 9 years old. That statement is below:
Child Rights Network: Lowering age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old a big mistake, sets dangerous precedent for children
We are shocked and dismayed that some of our legislators at the House of Representatives have chosen to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old in the latest version of the bill amending Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (JJWA).
In a statement released Thursday, January 17, House Committee on Justice Chair and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon revealed that his panel is set to pass the consolidated bill at the committee level “after months of deliberation and consultation with stakeholders and subject matter experts,” with the hope that it will be passed into law before the end of the 17th Congress.
The new version of the bill is a brash, unfounded, and misguided move that is inimical to children’s rights. A 9-year-old child is not yet even a teenager and has not yet even reached the standard age of puberty. Various scientific studies all point to the fact that a child or adolescent’s brain is still under development. Thus, children who come into conflict with the law at this age require an age-appropriate response that gives them a second chance at life. Brashly labeling them as criminals at a very young age essentially destroys their future.
Legislators are misguided in painting a picture of rampant criminality supposedly primarily instigated by children. This is a myopic view of the situation that utterly disregards the reasons why children are actually forced in situations where they commit wrongdoing. Leachon is wrong in reasoning that lowering the age of criminal responsibility will “save” children from exploitation by syndicate groups – instead, it will create a grimmer scenario where such groups will exploit and abuse even younger children to commit crimes and wrongdoing for them. We ask our legislators: why punish children? Why not punish the adult criminal syndicates that use and abuse them?
While we recognize that there are indeed challenges in implementing the JJWA, the current law has sufficient measures guided by the principles of restorative justice that will help rehabilitate children and encourage reparations for their wrongdoings without depriving them their future.
To haphazardly revamp the JJWA is tantamount to discounting the significant strides the current law has made throughout the years, albeit full and proper implementation has yet to be realized. The passage of JJWA in 2006 was a shining moment for Congress as, finally, it has recognized that children in conflict with the law are first and foremost children and the value and effectiveness of rehabilitating children within their communities.
Prior to the passage of RA 9344, children as young as nine years old could be actually imprisoned, often for petty crimes like candy theft. From 1995 to 2000, about one child was arrested per hour. Revamping the law may – intentionally or unintentionally – revert us back to this situation.
We emphasize that moves to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility may not only revert the children’s rights situation in the Philippines to the Dark Ages, but may also outrun recent strides in children’s advocacy, such as the passage of new laws that are meant to strengthen the protection of children in all possible situations.
Instead of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, we call on legislators to heed the calls to strengthen the implementation of JJWA. Particularly, we point to UNICEF’s 2015 evaluation of the law, which concluded that there is “weak commitment of the local government units to the implementation of the JJWA which significantly affected the delivery of programs for children in conflict with the law.”
We call on legislators not to act indiscriminately and pass what can be called a rigmarole of provisions meant only for the sake of optics and whitewashing. At a time when Congress has a choice between, on one hand, passing a piece of legislation that runs counter to evidence-based knowledge and scientific research and, on the other hand, protecting children’s welfare – we demand that our elected officials choose what is in the best interest of children. ###
For more information, contact:
Media Point Person, Child Rights Network
firstname.lastname@example.org / +63 998 531 2876