Bill lowering children’s criminal liability draws wide opposition
Government agencies, children’s rights advocates and international organizations are up in arms over efforts at the House of Representative to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) of children from 15 to nine years old.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) object to the measure, saying the proposed adjustment violate international laws such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) promoting and protecting children’s rights that the Philippine government promised to uphold.
“It will increase the chances of more children at a younger age to be subjected to judicial proceedings contravening the spirit and intent of the Convention,” the DSWD and JJWC in a statement said.
Both offices recalled that the UNCRC Committee has in fact praised the Philippine government when it passed the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (or RA 9344), which raised the MACR from 9 to 15 years old.
‘Bill by dumbest lawyer’
But President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly complained that the law is too lenient on children in conflict with the law and blamed its principal sponsor Senator Francis Pangilinan.
“This law passed by this son of a b***? He passed the juvenile law…Fifteen years old and you can’t put them in jail!” Duterte in a speech in Puerto Princesa City said.
“You are really nothing. You are the dumbest lawyer I know…I will destroy him,” Duterte said of Pangilinan last November.
In response to Duterte’s wishes, the House Committee on Justice, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, said it will hold a hearing today to repeal RA 9344 as a “priority matter of legislation.”
“[The House of Representatives] will move for the passage of the bill in support of a request from President Duterte,” a statement from Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo’s office last Friday added.
But both the DSWD and the JJWC said that poverty should be blamed on children running afoul with the law.
“Prior to the enactment of RA 9344, studies found that most children involved in crimes were poor. Most came from dysfunctioning families who lack access to basic needs, parental love and support, with very little education and were usually neglected or abused,” the agencies said.
“Most committed theft and crimes against property. Clearly, these were crimes committed for survival, safety and security, they added.
A children’s rights group echoed the agencies’ concern, adding dire poverty in the Philippines makes them more prone to criminality and anti-social activities.
“The government should address poverty and make services available to children in conflict with the law. Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old is not the solution. Children should be protected and be given the chance for rehabilitation,” the Association for the Rights of Children in Southeast Asia said in another statement.
Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights and its member organizations including the Children’s Rehabilitation Center also voiced its opposition to the measure, saying the MACR bill neglects that fact that poverty and lack of socio-economic opportunities are the main drivers of child offenses.
“At least 45 percent of the offenses attributed to children are petty theft, robbery and other offenses against property, while 65 percent of children offenders come from poor families,” Karapatan said.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Save the Children Philippines also voiced their opposition to the measure.
“Lowering the age of criminal responsibility is an act of violence against children,” the UNICEF said Friday.
“This will only push them to further discrimination, abuse and eventually, into more anti-social behavior,” SCP for its part said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)