UNICEF is deeply concerned about ongoing efforts in Congress to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the Philippines below 15 years of age. The proposed lowering vary from nine and 12 years, and goes against the letter and spirit of child rights.
There is a lack of evidence and data that children are responsible for the increase in crime rates committed in the Philippines. Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not deter adult offenders from abusing children to commit crimes.
Unicef supports the Philippine Government, as a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), to ensure that children grow up in a safe environment protected from crime and violence.
Sadly, lowering the age of criminal responsibility is an act of violence against children. Children in conflict with the law are already victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty and exploitation by adult crime syndicates. Children who are exploited and driven by adults to commit crimes need to be protected, not further penalized. Instead they should be given a second chance to reform and to rehabilitate.
Scientific studies show that brain function reaches maturity only at around 16 years old, affecting children’s reasoning and impulse control. Proposals to lower the age of criminal responsibility argue that children as young as nine years old are criminally mature and are already capable of discernment. If this was the case, then why is the legal age to enter marriage, legal contracts and employment in the Philippines at 18 years old? A nine-year-old child has not yet even reached the age of puberty and their brains are not developed to understand the consequences of actions.
The current proposal is to delay sentence up to a maximum age of 25 years. If a child is jailed at nine years old it means that they may have to waste away their life for 17 years under imprisonment until they can get a sentence for the crime committed. There is no mechanism to protect these children from cohabiting with hardened criminals and no guarantee that in detention they will be protected from violence and exploitation in jail.
Detaining children will not teach them accountability for their actions. In order to maximize their potential to contribute to nation-building, children must grow up in a caring, nurturing and protective environment. This requires strong parenting support programs and access to health, education and social services as well as to child-sensitive justice and social welfare systems.
The current Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law, which sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15, already holds children in conflict with the law accountable for their actions. It provides them with rehabilitation programs using the framework of restorative, not punitive justice.--LOTTA SYLWANDERR, UNICEF PHILIPPINES