‘No’ to lower minimum age of criminal liability

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The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday opposed congressional bills seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 years old to nine.

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In a position paper sent by DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo to Reynaldo Umali, the chairman of the House Committee on Justice, she said House Bill 935 and HB 3973 are “anti-poor” and will “never result in lower crime rates.”

“There is a need to distinguish between making children responsible for their actions and criminalizing them,” Taguiwalo’s position paper read.

“Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility runs counter to available scientific knowledge about the cognitive, psychosocial and neurological development of children,” she said.

Such intention, according to the Social Welfare secretary, would only result in more detained children, and will not be cost-effective since a higher public expenditure would have to be invested for detention.

She said the age issue is anti-poor because a larger number of children in conflict with the law comes from poor families where parents are either unemployed and where a greater number of siblings result in even lesser per-capita resources.

Taguiwalo noted that the two House bills violate the fundamental principles of social protection of children as provided by law.

HB 935 was filed by Navotas City (Metro Manila) Rep. Tobias Tiangco while HB 3973 was filed by Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrella Suansing.

Meanwhile, officials of the CHR headed by Chairman Jose Luis Gascon, in a separate position paper, opposed HB 2 filed by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro.

The CHR said lowering the MACR oversimplifies the nature of juvenile offending and violates the fundamental principles of child protection and welfare.

“We cannot overstress that juvenile offending will not be resolved by simply lowering the MACR,” the paper read.

According to the CHR, detaining young offenders would harm children rather than do them good.

“If the real intention of the legislators is to stop syndicates from using children to consummate their evil deeds, then focus should be directed on prosecuting the real perpetrators and ensuring that they suffer the highest degree of penalty provided for under our laws,” it said.

The commission, instead, recommended that the government focus on implementation of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act to ensure that the young offenders would be rehabilitated.

Rather than pushing for a new law that would put children in detention, the CHR said lawmakers should also focus on funding the construction of Bahay Pag-asa (House of Hope) facilities in every city, as well as the employment of medical doctors, social workers, teachers and psychologists who will serve in the facilities.

It added that law enforcers should step up the campaign against syndicates that continue to use children to commit crime.

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