STATEMENT: Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility against the best interest of Filipino children

On January 23, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly and hastily approved a bill that lowers that minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 12 years old, amending the current Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (JJWA). Senate is expected to also approve of its version soon. The bill is yet another attempt of Congress, under the leadership of Gloria Arroyo and Tito Sotto, and the Duterte Administration to revert all the positive gains under the JJWA and to trample on the rights of the children, the very sector it vows to protect.

Proponents of the bill claim that the proposed law aims to address the problem of children being used by criminal and drug syndicates to carry out criminal activities. Under this bill, children from ages 12 to 18 who commit serious crimes like murder, homicide, rape and violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 will be sent to reformative institutions called “Bahay Pag-asa.”

International and local groups and organizations advocating for the rights of the children have already expressed their disappointment and fierce opposition to the proposed law, calling it an act of violence against children. Advocates have also expressed their concern on the severe conditions of youth care facilities around the country and their doubt that these could adequately and effectively cater to the needs of the children in conflict with the law (CICL).

The Child Rights Network (CRN) firmly believes that lowering the MACR goes against the best interest of Filipino children. It is not the solution to both the problems of children being involved in and children being used for criminal activities. This proposed measure is anti-poor, anti-human rights, and anti-children. Apart from being plainly absurd, this measure is also unfounded, misguided, and uncalled for. Data from the Philippine National Police show that only 1.72% of reported crimes are committed by children. Furthermore, subjecting these children to the country’s flawed justice system and to the arduous judicial process is utterly inhumane and would traumatize them for the rest of their lives. These children are already victims of the harsh environment and society that they live in. Approving this proposed law will just further victimize them as they would be dehumanized and stigmatized, impeding their rights to survival and development opportunities.

A great deal of studies have shown that criminalizing children leads to recidivism. Detention and/or incarceration of children have also been linked to adverse effects on a child’s mental, physical and emotional development, as they are likely to be subjected to discrimination and abuse while detained. Furthermore, jailing children deny them of opportunities for advancement through education, and future employment. The proposals to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility also ignore scientific evidence that a child’s brain is still structurally and functionally immature and that the brain reaches full maturity at the age of 25.

The Child Rights Network, together with other child’s rights advocacy groups, vehemently opposes the bill and reiterates its call to retain the current MACR. Rather than lowering it, the government should instead focus on strengthening the implementation of the JJWA and on improving the facilities for children in conflict with the law. CRN further believes that rehabilitation is still the more effective and sound solution to the increasing number of child offenders. Evidence shows that these measures are effective in restoring and reintegrating children to the community, as documented by child rights advocates.

CRN also calls on all legislators to address the root causes of the problem instead of targeting the children.

Finally, CRN enjoins everyone to remain vigilant with all the development in the proposed law and to strongly resist all attacks against the rights of the children.

Children are not criminals. The real criminals are those who use and exploit the children to engage in criminal activities. The real criminals are those in the government who blatantly disregard and step on the rights of children in exchange of political gains. These are the real criminals that should be punished and be put in jail.