By Jenny Cua
The United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is deeply concerned with the legislative efforts to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12, and in some circumstances, to nine.
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UNICEF and civil society call on the legislature to continue and improve the implementation of the current law, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) of 2006, as amended in 2012.
To brand children as criminals remove the responsibility and accountability from adults who have failed them.
Children in conflict with the law are victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty, and because they are not able to access a caring, nurturing and protective environment.
The Philippines, in line with its international obligations to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, has already made tremendous progress in the realization of children’s rights by the passing of the JJWA in 2006 which raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from nine to 15.
Senate Bill 2026 attempts to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 12 and allow children to be placed in a closed youth facility from the age of nine.
This is a giant leap backward.
Based on its explanatory note, the bill argues that lowering the age of criminal responsibility will curb criminality and stop adults from using children.
This is a flawed argument.
Already disadvantaged children, exploited by adults should not be further penalized.
They should be protected and supported.
Detaining or institutionalizing children are the least effective and the most expensive measures for preventing reoffending.
Evidence shows that community-based interventions have more impact.
Studies in neurobiology also show that adolescents’ brain function reach maturity only at around 16 years old, affecting their reasoning and impulse control.
Research also has shown that children who are in dysfunctional families and those exposed to violence experience toxic stress which damages the brain’s architecture.
The current JJWA law does not let children in conflict with the law go without measures of discipline and accountability.
Rather, it provides these children the rehabilitation, and encourages reparation for their wrongdoings.
By lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, syndicates who exploit children into committing crimes for them, will instead use and abuse even younger children to commit their wrongdoings.
We call on the government to uphold its responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfill children’s rights by not lowering the age of criminal responsibility and instead focus on the full implementation of the existing juvenile justice law.