MANILA, 18 January 2019 – 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 9 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 9 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 9-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 9 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.
Noteworthy efforts from the judiciary and the executive agencies like the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, Departments of Education and Social Welfare and Development deserve full support of Congress, particularly on increasing life skills of adolescent learners; establishing an evidence-based parenting program for babies all the way through adolescence; and decreasing use of detention and increase use of diversion and community-based mechanisms to address delinquency. UNICEF calls on the government and civil society to focus on strengthening the implementation of this law instead of amending it.
Branding children as criminals removes accountability from adults who are responsible for safeguarding them. If children who have been exploited by criminal syndicates are penalized instead of the adults who abused them, we fail to uphold the rights and well-being of children.
If we fail to understand the underlying reasons how and why children commit crimes, we as adults, fail our children.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.