THE United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), together with the Philippine Legislators' Committee on Population and Development, Magone Homes Don Bosco and Child Rights Network (CRN), held a forum Thursday against lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, or Republic Act 9334 as amended by Republic Act 10630, the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the Philippines is set at 15 years old.

As of September 2016, there have been bills filed in the 17th Congress to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years to nine years old.

But Unicef believes that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is against the best interest of the children and threatens their well-being.

CRN also opposed the proposal, saying it will result in negative consequences for children and the public. It will increase the number of children in conflict with the law and will more likely become harden offenders, it said.

Lawyer Ma. Margarita Ardivilla, Unicef child protection specialist, said that according to the Philippine National Police data, the number of crimes committed by children comprise only of 1.72 percent, wherein most crimes committed are theft, physical injury, and violations of municipal and city ordinances.

She said the children who committed the crimes are mostly out-of-school youth, street children, those who have fragmented families, and most likely belong to the lower class of the society.

The forum, held at the Social Hall of Cebu Provincial Capitol on Thursday, February 2, encouraged everyone to support the campaign against lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility and keep children away from detention by making #ChildrenNotCriminals trend in social media.

The organizers also called on the public to help support them by signing a petition at www.change.org. (OPM/Sunstar Philippines)