November 20, 2016
November 20 marks the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. As such, November 20 is celebrated as Universal Children’s Day. It is a day for celebrating children as an important pillar of society, and for all of us—especially the State—to remember our duty to ensure the fulfillment of children’s rights and reaffirm the collective resolve to give every child the best chances at a life of dignity.
When we commit to uphold the rights of a child, this means that this right is extended to every child, including children who have come in conflict with the law. When we proclaim our respect for the dignity of every child, this means that we acknowledge the child a unique being – developing physically, socially, and, most importantly, psychologically. We must also recognize children’s fragility and limited capacity to understand the consequences of their actions. When we say that we want a just society for every child, we mean justice as inclusion of measures for offenders to be rehabilitated, and, in time, be reintegrated into society as productive, contributing members.
Earlier this week, the House of Representatives commenced hearing of a bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9. This proposal (House Bill No. 2), together with the re-imposition of death penalty in the country—is among Congress’ priority in the 17th Congress.
We, advocates of children’s rights, meet this measure with trepidation. We believe that this bill, when enacted, will inarguably compromise the dignity and chance at a bright future of the Filipino child. We are most concerned that this move will impact children from socioeconomically-disadvantaged sectors who—owing to their living circumstances, or as victims of exploitation—are forced to engage in criminal activities. These children, when involved in skirmishes with the law, will have limited access to good legal support.
We urge our lawmakers to consider the best interests of children as they craft responsive and meaningful policies. The jail is no place for children.