MANILA, 20 May 2019 – Today, the Senate will debate the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
UNICEF supports the call of the Council for the Welfare of Children, civil society organizations, professional associations, child protection experts, well-meaning citizens, parents and the youth: Do not to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Congress must support the full implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. Children in conflict with the law are already victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty and exploitation by adults. Children need access to rehabilitation services because they deserve a second chance. They need to be protected and not further penalized.
UNICEF makes this urgent call today – on the 13th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act – and reiterates its commitment to promote the rights of all children, including children in conflict with the law and children-at-risk. As we celebrate this milestone, let us be reminded that all children must be treated with dignity and accorded their inalienable rights with utmost respect and protection.
Adopted on 20 May 2006 and amended in 2013, RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) promotes the creation of a child-friendly justice system focused on rehabilitation and restoration rather than punishment. It upholds the basic principle that a child must not be treated as an adult as enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) signed and ratified by the Philippines: "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth."
The law makes it clear – without a doubt – that there is a need for a separate juvenile justice system where detention is the last resort. The erring child must be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society if the child must take responsibility for his or her action and mend the broken relationship with the community and the victim.
The proper implementation of JJWA has led to many success stories (Children Not Criminals) proving that children in conflict of the law can be rehabilitated without resorting to imprisonment or detention. UNICEF has been working with local governments, civil society organizations, executive and administrative bodies, the Supreme Court, and children themselves to fully implement the law to protect children’s rights – whether the child is the victim, the offender, or a community member.
JJWA is as a response to the 2009 Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the fulfilment of the Philippines’ obligation to the CRC. The law was recognized and nominated among the best laws and policies to secure children’s rights in the 2015 Future Policy Awards organized by the World Future Council, in partnership with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and UNICEF.
But beyond the accolades and the recognition of the international community, the value of this law lies in how it has changed the lives of many Filipino children who were given a second chance in life. The JJWA does not see children in conflict with the law as criminals. Rather, it regards them as victims of their circumstances. This law has given these children hope – to change, to become better, and to work for a brighter future.
Despite limited resources and support, the implementing bodies and civil society groups are doing their best to strengthen and improve the system. UNICEF commends the efforts of these implementing bodies, including the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, in their efforts to fully and effectively implement the law. It is hoped that the JJWC will continue to align with children’s welfare and be driven by the best interests of the child. UNICEF continues to work with child rights groups in safeguarding the rights of children and ensuring access to rehabilitation opportunities.
Recently, there have been efforts to undermine the impact of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act by proposing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Using misleading information, there are those who claim that the law has failed. But this is not a fact. The law cannot fail if it is fully and effectively implemented. Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is not the answer. Putting children in prison or detaining them will only cause more harm to the child and to the community.
UNICEF urges the Philippine Government to celebrate the 13th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act by upholding the rights and best interests of the children and to lead the full and effective implementation of the law. It is, without question, an ideal policy which exemplifies the highest level of child protection.
We call on the Government to work with child rights defenders and strengthen the juvenile justice system for the sake of all Filipino 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.