UNICEF statement on calls to lower the age of criminal responsibility
MANILA, 22 July 2016 – UNICEF is concerned about the efforts to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine years old as proposed in House Bill 002. UNICEF believes that reducing the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) goes against the best interests of the child and threatens the well-being of the most vulnerable children.
An effective juvenile justice system puts the rights and welfare of the child at its heart. It seeks to understand how a child develops and tackles the underlying reasons why they commit crimes. It recognises the detrimental effects of incarceration on children.
Studies in neurobiology reveal that adolescents’ brain function reach maturity only at around 16 years old, affecting their reasoning abilities and impulse control. Research has also shown that children who are in dysfunctional families and those exposed to violence experience toxic stress which damages the brain’s architecture.
Putting children in jail has long-lasting damaging effects on their cognitive, psychosocial and neurological health; harming their overall development. It further stigmatizes them as criminals and creates an environment that triggers repeat offense, often extending to adulthood. Children, especially the most marginalized and at risk, must be treated with a sense of dignity and self-worth. It is a treatment that takes into account the child’s age and promotes the child’s reintegration, including his or her assumption of a constructive role in society. Philippine society must work together to create an environment where the youth will acquire non-criminal attitudes.
The Philippine Government, as a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, is required to develop and implement a comprehensive juvenile justice policy. It is a good opportunity for government to reflect on the challenges in implementing the law, instead of proposing solutions that fail to address the root cause of the problem.
While there are still areas that need to be improved, including data management, child-oriented local government programming and budgeting, and multi-sectoral coordination; there has been a steady improvement of the juvenile justice and welfare system since the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act was signed 10 years ago. Local studies show that diversion programmes and other alternatives to detention reduces offending by up to 70 per cent.
If children who have been exploited by criminal syndicates are penalized instead of the adults who had abused them, we fail to uphold the rights and well-being of children. If we fail to understand the underlying reasons why they commit crimes, we fail children.