The Save the Children Philippines and the United Nations Children’s Fund are opposing Congress’ move to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine years old.
In a statement, the SCP said the proposal, which is being finalized at the House of Representatives, would not be for the best interest of the children.
“This will only push them to further discrimination, abuse and eventually, into more anti-social behavior,” the group said.
“What we need is for the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act to be fully implemented with clear programs and services for prevention, response, and the reintegration of children back into their families and communities,” he added.
Meanwhile, UNICEF cited the “lack of evidence and data that children are responsible for the increase in crime rates committed in the Philippines.”
It said that pushing through with the proposal will not deter adult offenders from abusing children to commit crimes.
“Lowering the age of criminal responsibility is an act of violence against children,” the UNICEF said in a statement released Friday.
UNICEF explained that children exploited by adults to commit crimes must be protected and not further penalized.
Citing scientific studies, it noted that brain function reaches maturity only at about 16 years old.
“Proposals to lower the age of criminal responsibility argue that children as young as nine years old are criminally mature and are already capable of discernment. If this was the case, then why is the legal age to enter marriage, legal contracts and employment in the Philippines at 18 years old?” it said.
It also underscored the risk of exposing these children from cohabiting with hardened criminals in jail, while waiting for their sentence for the crime they committed.
“Branding children as criminals removes accountability from adults who are responsible for safeguarding them. If children who have been exploited by criminal syndicates are penalized instead of the adults who abused them, we fail to uphold the rights and well-being of children,” it stated.
The House committee on justice, chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Doy Leachon, will hold a hearing on Monday to repeal the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, by lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 years old to nine. Leachon earlier said the House bill is considered a “priority matter of legislation.”
On the other hand, a similar bill filed at the Senate seeks to set the minimum age of criminal liability at 13.
Meanwhile, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said she will not watch the fight of Senator Manny Pacquiao with challenger Adrie Broner in order to personally shepherd the passage of the bill lowering the age of criminal responsibility to nine from 15.
Pacquiao earlier personally invited thr Speaker to watch the fight in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
Sources said Arroyo is convinced that the present law that pegs the age of responsibility at 15 has resulted in the use of children as accomplices of gangsters and other criminals.
Leachon, meanwhile, said that his panel is set to finalize on Monday the passage of the bill that lowers the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to nine.
Leachon said the committee aims to pass the bill before the end of the 17th Congress.
Leachon said the measure seeks to amend the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006” or Republic Act 9344, which sets the minimum age for criminal liability at 15.
“The Committee, after months of deliberation and consultation with stakeholders and experts, is now finalizing the bill hoping that the matter will be passed into law before the end of the 17th Congress,” said Leachon.
He said he was saddened by the involvement of minors in various criminal activities, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte and Congress to work on a legislation that would address the problem.
“Recent news and reports show an alarming increase in the number of syndicates using minors to perpetrate criminal acts and it is but the time to pass this bill to protect our children from being used by ruthless and unscrupulous criminal syndicates to evade prosecution and punishment,” he added.
Leachon said Congress will work on the passage of the measure to ensure a better Philippines in the future.
“The current Congress gives utmost importance to legislative measures that ensure the safety of our future generation. The Committee recognizes that the youth is an integral part of nation-building and the State must ensure and preserve their overall well-being,” Leachon said.