Lowering Minimum Age Of Criminal Responsibility Hit

MANILA, Philippines --- The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) has slammed legislative proposals to reduce the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

JJWC, which oversees the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, otherwise known as Republic Act No. 9344, said that since the enactment of the law in May 2006, critics could not pinpoint a surge in crimes committed by minors.

Tagging those who are batting for the reduction of the minimum age of criminal responsibility as engaged in knee-jerk reaction, JJWC stressed that RA 9344 was enacted in compliance with the country's obligation as a State Party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and pursuant to the provisions of the Philippine Constitution and Philippine special laws protecting children.

"This landmark child protection law, the first of its kind in Asia, envisions a child-sensitive justice and welfare system and mandates the local government units (LGUs) and national government agencies (NGAs) to allocate resources for the creation of programs and services that will protect Filipino children and prevent them from being forced, threatened and pushed to violate our criminal laws. The Philippines has been hailed as a pioneering country in juvenile justice reforms after the enactment of RA 9344," said JJWC secretariat executive director Atty. Tricia Clare Oco.

"Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is turning our backs on our duty of rehabilitating our youth and preventing them from committing crimes. The hard fact and research-backed truth is that lowering the minimum age of criminal liability will not lower crime rates," she argued.

Based on patterns and studies in different countries, lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility does not necessarily result in a decrease in the crime rates and incidents of juvenile offending.

Undersecretary Alicia R. Bala of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), who is also the JJWC chairperson, stressed that partners and supporters from the local child rights and human rights organizations, the academe and members of the civil society and international organizations, have consistently expressed strong opposition against the proposed amendments to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15-years-old to 12-years-old under House Bill 6052.

"It is premature to judge RA 9344 and submit it to amendment. More critically, it's unfair to the children because it is as if we've given up on them. We have no basis to say that RA9344 is not effective simply because we have not fully implemented it," Bala said.

Bala insisted that the problems of rising criminality "cannot be fixed by simply sending our children to jail. Children in conflict with the law should not be treated by the State as hardened criminals but as victims of circumstances beyond their control."

These children need social protection from the state, Bala reiterated, and argued "children will not be saved unless we first admit that the real criminals against them are poverty, abuse, neglect and abandonment and the adult criminals and syndicates, who exploit them, entice, threaten, and force them to commit crimes."

"RA9344 is not just about penalties and not easily about punishments for children who are in conflict with the law, that's just too easy and convenient. RA9344, more importantly, is about building homes and schools for our children, building dreams and aspirations, paving the path for a better future," Oco added.

"Turning our backs on RA9344 is blaming the children. The law, which recognizes the capacity of the children to change, gives the child in conflict with the law a chance to rehabilitate and develop themselves into better and more productive citizens. Sending the children in conflict with the law to jail is a lot easier than getting our hands dirty in the difficult and complicated process of rehabilitating, providing answer to the challenges of hunger and poverty and running after the syndicates and hardened criminals who force the children to criminality," she appealed.