A panel at the House of Representatives has rejected the proposal of administration lawmakers led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to lower the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old.
The measure that seeks to detain children who committed a crime was instead amended by the House Justice Sub Committee on Correctional Reforms to provide mandatory government intervention for children in conflict with the law aged nine to 14 years old, a provision absent in the existing Juvenile Justice and Welfare of Children law which prevents authorities from detaining children.
The amendment means that children in conflict with the law aged nine to 14 will be automatically turned over to the local Social Welfare Development Officer. The child’s parents or guardian will then be informed that the child has been taken into custody.
The Social Welfare Development Officer will then asses if the child can be released to his or her parents or guardian or placed under foster care or if the child should be sent to the care of Bahay Pag-asa—a 24-hour child caring institution funded and managed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
“The 15 year old minimum age of criminal liability will not be changed. Instead, children in conflict in the law under 15 years old will not be immediately released [to parents or guardians]. They will be subject to rehabilitation for their eventual reintegration to society, starting with Bahay ng Pag-asa,” Rep. Ron Salo of Kabayan party-list, who headed the Technical Working Group that crafted the new bill, said.
The new bill also increases the jail time for negligent parents, guardians and crime syndicates who induce, encourage or use children to commit crimes.
If the crime committed by the child is punishable by a jail time of six years or less, the parents, guardians or members of the crime syndicates will be sentenced to 12 to 20 years in jail.
If the crime committed by the child is punishable by more than six years in jail, then the negligent parents or guardians will be meted jail term of at least 30 years.
“The penalties for those who induce or coerce the children to commit crime will also discourage, if not eliminate, the exploitation of children, as well as remind parents of their duty to rear responsible children because of mandatory counseling and intervention that extend to parents and guardians,” Salo said.
Deputy Speaker Pia Cayetano said the new bill addressed all concerns of those in favor and opposed to reducing the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine years old.
“This is a balance between the need to protect and nurture the children, but at the same time, giving them that sense of responsibility that they must be accountable for their actions. If the parents/guardians cannot discipline the children, this bill allows the state to take over that responsibility as part of government intervention. That way, we remove the stigma of being a criminal from being carried by the children,” Cayetano said.