This file photo shows a group of children along Manila Bay.
The STAR/Edd Gumban, File
Children in conflict with the law are victims too — rights groups
(Philstar.com) - January 18, 2019 - 4:40pm

MANILA, Philippines — A children’s rights group on Friday again voiced opposition to proposals lowering the age of criminal liability as a House panel is set to finalize proposed legislation which to hold minors accountable for breaking the law.

In a statement, Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns said lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility would only "put the blame on children in conflict with the law and punish them behind bars."

"Children in conflict with the laws, together with their families, are victims of poverty, hunger, social inequality and state neglect but instead of addressing these pressing socio-economic issues, the Duterte government and his minions in the Philippine Congress are consistent in promoting and pushing for anti-children and anti-people policies,” Salinlahi said.

The group added: “We call on fellow child rights and human rights advocates, parents and children to express our strong opposition to the proposed legislation that put Filipino children’s rights and welfare in peril.”

On Friday, child rights group PLAN International Philippines tweeted a reminder that children do not have the same decision-making ability as adults do.

Among the arguments for those who want to lower the age of criminal liability is that, under the current law, children are transferred to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development instead of to the police. This has created a perception that children are not held liable for breaking the law.

Serious crimes under Juvenile Justice Act 

Under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which was amended in 2013, a child between 12 to 15 years old who commits serious crimes "shall be deemed a neglected child under Presidential Decree No. 603, as amended, and shall be mandatorily placed in a special facility within the youth care faculty or ‘Bahay Pag-asa’ called the Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center."

Among the serious crimes that will mandate being placed in an Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center are:

  • Parricide
  • murder
  • infanticide
  • kidnapping and serious illegal detention where the victim is killed or raped
  • robbery, with homicide or rape, 
  • destructive arson,  
  • carnapping where the driver or occupant is killed or raped
  • offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 punishable by more than 12 years of imprisonment

The same law holds that a child who is above 15 years and below 18 years old, if found to have been acting with discernment, can be subjected to a diversion program, which could include fines, counseling and "institutional care and custody."

Not all children in conflict with the law are eligible for a diversion program and the same law says there should be "a specially trained prosecutor to conduct inquest, preliminary investigation and prosecution of cases involving a child in conflict with the law." If necessary, charges can be filed before the Family Court. 

House panel to finalize bill

The House Committee on Justice will conduct a hearing for the passage of bills seeking to repealthe Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act on Monday, Rep. Doy Leachon (Oriental Mindoro) said.

These bills aim to lower the age of criminal liability to nine years old from 15 years old.

A similar bill has been filed at the upper house by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, but his version seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 13.

Duterte has repeatedly aired his desire to lower the age of criminal liability and hit Sen. Francis Pangilinan for authoring the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.

In September, the UN Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, stressed that the government should improve the implementation of the existing juvenile low, instead of lowering the age of criminal liability.

UNICEF also called the proposal a “giant leap backward.” — Gaea Katreena Cabico

CHILD'S RIGHTS
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