NGOs, government agencies, child rights advocates urge Congress: Retain minimum age of criminal liability; reinforce Juvenile Justice Law
Government agencies, non-government organizations and child rights advocates urged Congress not to lower children’s minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR), saying law enforcement should focus on cracking down on syndicate groups and parents who exploit children to commit crimes. Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Rep. Tom Villarin both said lowering the MACR violates a child’s right to life, health, safety and development. Instead, they called for the full implementation of the comprehensive Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law of 2006 (RA 9344).
At a press briefing at the Sulu Riviera Hotel in Quezon City led by the Child Rights Network, Sen. Hontiveros reminded her fellow legislators that “lowering the MACR is already a death sentence for children; first, because subjecting them in the criminal justice system can possibly put them on the death row along with hardened criminals; and, if released, the long-lasting effects to them socially in the communities. They will only be stigmatized as criminals, and even trigger repeat offence.”
She said the current state of the country’s jail system is not conducive to children for rehabilitation. “Overcrowded jail is not a place for children. Even adult detainees, while awaiting trial or conviction and cannot afford bail, are already subjected to these harsh conditions – so why do we want to put our own children in these conditions?” she asked. Sen. Hontiveros filed Senate Resolution 247 to assess and review the Juvenile Justice Law and how it can be fully and better implemented instead.
“It’s time for the Duterte administration to stop these regressive law enforcement practices,” she said.
Rep. Villarin cited “the lack of evidence-based and statistics-backed arguments in Congress in pushing for the lowering of the MACR; as opposed to data that shows only less than 2% of reported crimes by the PNP committed by children below 15. Majority of these offenses are petty crimes such as theft and physical injury.” He added that the government will need at least PHP268,011 per child for the entire rehabilitation period, if more children are put under criminal justice system instead of the community-based juvenile rehabilitation processes. He also shared that there is an ongoing campaign to gather one million signatures to urge the leadership in Congress to reconsider the move to lower the MACR.
He added that as majority of child offenders come from disadvantaged backgrounds, children in conflict with the law (CICL) have a profile of simply not having had an environment wherein they had the opportunities for development and proper growth. “From a study, up to 80% of minor offenders have either mental conditions or a history of violence or substance abuse – which is why they should get treatment, not imprisonment.”
“A multi-sector collaborated juvenile justice law is key in addressing juvenile offenders; including public investment for local government units (LGUs) to better facilitate local rehabilitation systems; empower social workers to support the needs of CICLs and at-risk children at a local level; support for parenting programmes to deter at-risk children from poor communities from committing crimes; and empower Court personnel on case management and restorative justice programmes for minor offenders,” UNICEF Philippines Representative Lotta Sylwander said, citing the Philippines’ commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a 2015 Universalia evaluation of the country’s juvenile justice sector.
Studies show that criminalizing children leads to re-offending and increases violent offending. Detention and/or incarceration of children have also been linked to adverse effects on a child’s mental, physical and emotional development, education, and future employment. Proposals to lower the MACR also ignore scientific evidence that a child’s brain is structurally and functionally immature, which influences decision-making and increases their tendency to engage in risky behaviors during adolescence.
“There is a difference between children’s knowledge of right and wrong; and in acting in accordance with that knowledge and of what the consequences of their actions would be. Adolescents below age 15 tend to act on their emotions – including fear, hunger, peer pressure, threats and desperation – which is why they can be pressured into committing crimes by adults, like syndicates or even their parents,” said Dr. Liane Alampay of the Ateneo de Manila University Psychology Department, and representing the Psychological Association of the Philippines.
With RA 9344, youth offenders – most of whom are from disadvantaged socioeconomic sectors – will not be submitted to the dehumanizing conditions in correctional institutions. It provides measures and initiatives to ensure that CICLs will be rehabilitated, and eventually reintegrated to the society as responsible adult members.
Since its enactment in 2006, there have been repeated attempts to amend the RA 9344 to revert the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine years old. In the current 17th Congress through House Bill 002, six bills support this move and have already been heard by the sub-committee on Correctional Reforms and are expected to pass soon; anticipated to succeed in its mother committee, the Committee on Justice. Leadership of the House of Representatives projects the bill will be approved on Third Reading by May.
“We are saddened by the reports that the powerful leadership in the House has resorted to bullying the other members who oppose House Bill 002, and threaten them to strip them of their chairmanships, just to push for this very dangerous agenda. Let’s remember our politicians who are moving to destroy the lives of our own children,” said Child Rights Network convener Romeo Dongeto, calling on national and local legislators to oppose the move.
This press release was published on UNICEF's website.
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