The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) said Tuesday that they strongly oppose the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 years old to 13 as provided in the New Criminal Code – Book I.
According to DSWD Secretary Corazon J. Soliman, the proposed provisions in the New Criminal Code – Book I does not conform with international laws.
Soliman cited that the Philippines is a State Party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and other international treaties promoting and protecting children’s rights.
“Hence, the Philippines has obliged itself to respond to children in conflict with the law, in accordance with these treaties, to effectively serve the best interests of children and, in the short and long term, the interest of the society,” Soliman pointed out.
Soliman added that the proposed provisions are not consistent with the UNCRC and other treaties that call for States to develop a juvenile justice system that does not resort to judicial proceedings and to use the deprivation of liberty only as a last measure.
She said that lowering the MACR in Section 8 of the proposed Code will lead to an increased chances for more teenagers to be subjected to judicial proceedings which is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Convention.
“Moreover, once a higher MACR has been established, the State must not lower it but must only progressively increase the minimum age. The proposed Section 8 provision is a setback to the Philippines efforts in advancing child rights protection,” she stressed.
In 2009, the UNCRC Committee, in its 2009 concluding observations to the Philippines report to UNCRC compliance, commended the country’s passage of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (or RA 9344), which raised the MACR from 9 to 15 years old.
It also expressed its concern on the initiatives to lower the MACR.
It particularly urged the Philippines to ensure that the MACR is not lowered.
The DSWD chief added that the proposed Section 9 provision also contravenes the international principle against discrimination when it allowed children to be tried as adults for serious crimes committed.
She added that children do not become adults when they commit serious crimes.
“It is not the offense that determines the full maturity of children but their age, and physical and mental development. Therefore, the full protection and coverage of juvenile justice should be for all children below 18 years old,” she stated.
She cited that the Philippine Constitution guarantees to ensure and defend the right of children from all forms of conditions prejudicial to their development.
“Because of this mandate and by virtue of our international obligations, RA 9344, as amended, was enacted. The proposed provisions on children in Sections 8 and 9 of the Criminal Code are therefore not consistent with the Philippines laws,” she again added.
According to the DSWD chief, criminalizing younger children is “anti-poor”.
Prior to the enactment of RA 9344, studies found that most children involved in crimes were poor.
Most came from dysfunctioning families who lack access to basic needs, parental love and support, with very little education and were usually neglected or abused.
Most committed theft and crimes against property.
“Clearly, such were crimes committed for survival, safety and security,” she said.
She recalled that prior to RA 9344, when the MACR was low, very young children were often arrested and detained without proper procedures.
“It was common to find young children accused of stealing or vagrancy in overcrowded cells, mixed with adult prisoners who had been charged with rape, murder and other serious crimes. Various reports showed how these children became subjected to bullying by guards and older prisoners and had to endure the sub-human conditions of the jail,” she explained.
She cited that since most of them came from poor families, they stayed longer in prison for lack of proper representation in the courts and thereby results to suffering of different kinds of abuse during arrest and detention and came out of jail worse off than before.
The Lady DSWD chief further stressed that what these children need were help and assistance because their families cannot provide for them in which RA 9344 was enacted for.
She cited also that was is highly needed is full implementation of RA 9344 as amended by RA 10630.
She said that RA 10630 follows the principle of restorative justice and provides for a comprehensive and child-sensitive juvenile justice and welfare system.
Under the said law children are not tried as adults but are provided alternative measures for their accountability through diversion and provided with intervention for their rehabilitation and reintegration to the community.
She then called for joining hands in rehabilitating the children and leading away from the life of crime as restorative way that can benefit both the children and the nation as well. PNA