In the middle of condemnation over Philippines’ House of Representatives’ proposed measure lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9, legislators are looking at a higher threshold of 12.
This means that children as young as 12 years old could be jailed under a bill supported by Philippine lawmakers which has strongly been attacked by the UN and human rights croups.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III cited 2018 statistics from the Philippine National Police on crimes committed by children 17 years old and below which showed that there were 1,813 reported cases of theft, 1,086 cases physical injuries and 862 cases of rape.
In an interview, Mr. Romeo Dongeto, head of the Philippine advocacy group Child Rights Network, asserted that young lawbreakers are repeatedly confronted with a more difficult future and will have trouble adjusting to the real world, and that lowering the age of criminal liability would only make life worse for them. Facing a criminal case and going to trial at such a young age “is traumatizing and will scar the child for life,” Mr. Dongeto said.
In response, Atty. Salvador Panelo, spokesperson for Mr. Duterte, said the current law gave drug gangs an incentive to use children for criminal activities “because they know the children will be freed.” He said Mr. Duterte wanted to “protect the children” by amending the law. “Because if you have a law that will criminalize this particular age bracket, then the criminals will not use them,” Mr. Panelo added.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, author of the current juvenile justice law, said that many of those children who committed crimes came from poor families and were simply trying to survive. Instead of targeting children, the police should pursue high-level criminals and drug traffickers more effectively, he said in a statement.
“An iron fist is not the solution. Jailing our kids and mistreating are not solutions,” said Mr. Pangilinan, who committed to block the proposed amendments in the Senate. “Go after big crooks, and reform 9-year-olds,” Pangilinan forcefully asserted.
In a statement, Senator Grace Poe, who strongly disagreed with previous attempts to lower the age for criminal prosecution, concurred with Pangilinan. “By lowering the age of criminality to 9, we will be creating kindergarten prisons, and instead of rehabilitating children, these will become finishing schools for young criminals, their impressionable minds tutored by the best in the trade.”
In the same vein, authorities at the Philippine office of the UN Children’s Fund said the proposed law ‘goes against the letter and spirit of child rights.’
“Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not deter adult offenders from abusing children to commit crimes….. it is an act of violence against children.”