"Children need to grow up in a caring, loving, enabling environment. They have the right to education, health, and their childhood."
Jose Rizal once said, “The youth is the hope of the Motherland” because indeed, our children are the country’s future. The kind of kids we have now will shape the Philippine society of the future. From them will come the country’s leaders, judges, economists, businesspeople, workers, and most importantly, parents.
Thus, we take seriously the business of children’s well-being. No wonder, the ongoing Congress discussions on lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old created online furor and strong opposition among netizens.
First, let us be clear on the levels of responsibilities. The family (primarily the parents) has the responsibility to nurture, provide for, educate and train kids to become decent persons. It is society’s responsibility to provide a conducive environment for kids to develop into productive, responsible, and law-abiding citizens. Therefore, it is the family’s and society’s FAILURE if a good number of kids are lured into illegal activities. After all, kids learn from what they see in adults.
Second, children have human rights. The country is a signatory to international covenants on this and as duty bearer, must fulfill responsibilities in protecting children’s rights. Treating kids as young as nine, or even 12, as criminals violates their rights. In fact, as the UNICEF said, lowering the age of criminal liability is “violence against children.”
Third, there is no evidence to show that a law on this is needed. There is no data proving that a substantial number of crimes are committed by kids. Sen. Tito Sotto presented a table containing crimes committed by children covering the years 2016, 2017, and 2018. It showed the following: 1,929 were committed by kids aged nine to eleven; 13,320 by those aged twelve to fifteen; and 19,417 by others aged below eighteen. A few crimes were committed by kids of undetermined age.
Sotto’s total for three years for crimes committed by children from nine years of age to below eighteen was 36, 177 or an average of 12,059 a year. Of the total, 32,142 were committed by boys, 3,985 by girls, and the rest by members of the LGBTQI+ community.
Compare these figures with the PNP reports that from July 2016 up to June 2018 (two years), a total of 1,325,789 crimes were reported. Clearly, only 0.027 percent of crimes were committed by children and these covers three years. Also, only 0.0014 percent of the total crimes were committed by children aged nine to 11 years. The numbers clearly show that there is absolutely no need to lower the age of criminal liability.
On the contrary, thousands of kids are abused and violated by adults in many ways and most abusers go scot-free.
There are also no studies proving that this measure can help address criminality in general, or can deter children from being in conflict with the law. Having served as resource person to Committee hearings both in the House of Representatives and Senate countless times, I know how they work. Resource persons are asked to prove their position by data. Legislators crunch numbers but I doubt if they are doing this on this issue.
Fourth, nine-year-olds, even 12-year-old are KIDS. They’re just in grade three or grade six and barely know things. It takes at least 16 years for them to complete their education and at nine or 12 years old, they’re only in year three or six of the sixteen years. How in good conscience can lawmakers consider them as criminals in the same level of adults? Reform yes, prison NO.
Ironically, these children cannot even watch movies rated PG13 without their parents or guardians because they cannot yet be relied to have the discernment supposedly needed for such films. Yet, Congress wants to consider them as criminals!
Fifth, our penal system hardly prepares those convicted of having committed crimes to be reintegrated into society. Those who commit even petty crimes usually spend years in jail especially if they are poor because of absence of money for their defense. Many turn into hardened criminals. If they do not and are eventually released, they suffer stigma for being ex-convicts. It becomes very hard for them to live normally. Do we really want kids to be like them? What about their chance at education, a good job in the future?
Lastly, almost everything in the bills being considered by Congress can be done under the present law. Well, except the lowering of the age of criminal liability. Moreover, I see several major problems especially with the bill being discussed by the HOR, Committee Report 1071.
To begin, only children below nine years old are exempt from committing crimes. Therefore, as contained in Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 of the bill, those who are nine years old but below 18 can actually suffer imprisonment IF it is ascertained that they already had discernment when they became Children In Conflict with the Law. If they are not exempted from commission of crimes, then they are criminals, plain and simple.
A big problem here is the process of determination of discernment. The responsibility is given to the Local Social Welfare Officer who may or may not be a psychologist or psychiatrist as most are social workers. Also, they have to do this delicate and important job on top of their already heavy load. The possibility of human error is significant and a child’s life is at stake.
While under the bill, the maximum no. of years that CICL can be imprisoned is twelve years, those who reached eighteen while their cases are suspended may be imprisoned for a maximum of twenty-five years! Considering the state of our prisons and our penal system, what will become of them?
The bill speaks of Court proceedings. We know how expensive and tedious these are. It is obvious that most of the children who will be apprehended are poor. Where will they, or their families get the money to sustain the process? Just like poor adult suspected of committing crimes, they will rot in wherever they get committed.
The Department of Social Welfare is given the heaviest responsibility by the bill. However, it is common knowledge that the DSWD acutely lacks professionals, facilities, other needed human resources, etc. Unless these deficiencies are adequately addressed, it is highly doubtful if the DSWD can handle the responsibilities judiciously.
The bill says that CICL may be committed to Bahay Pag-asa. Existing facilities according to reports, are worse than prison. Most do not have programs and children committed there are left with nothing to do. There are also those that are not operational. The bill also speaks of community-based programs for CICL. I work very closely with poor communities and I have yet to see a truly child-friendly, efficient, & responsive community-based program for children.
If the bill passes and even if more Bahay Pag-asa are established, it is doubtful if they will be operated as envisioned. The thing to do is to implement the present law fully, efficiently, and effectively.
The biggest problem for me is the bill’s framework. It believes that children as young as nine can deliberately decide to be criminals. It is almost the same as saying that children may be predisposed to committing crimes. This is most absurd.
Children need to grow up in a caring, loving, enabling environment. They have the right to education, health, and their childhood. Take these rights away, and worse, criminalize them, and they cease to be children.
President Duterte said that children are being used by syndicates in criminal activities. If this is so and given the small number of crimes committed by children, government should go after the syndicates, not the children. Lowering the age for criminal liability is a misguided and WRONG measure to address criminality.
Government should address the factors that make kids go astray. Address deficiencies in education, economic, social, and other conditions that make children break laws. After all, they are #ChildrenNotCriminals.
As Jose Rizal said, the country’s future is in the hands of our children. It is our responsibility to bring them up well.
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