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Opinion

The children are the destiny of a nation

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

"Children exist in the world as well as in the family. From the moment they are born, they depend on a host of other “grown-ups” – grandparents, neighbors, teachers, ministers, employers, political leaders, and untold others who touch their lives directly and indirectly. Adults police their streets, monitor the quality of their food, air, and water, produce the programs that appear on their televisions, run the businesses that employ their parents, and write the laws that protect them. Each of us plays a part in every child’s life. It takes a village to raise a child.

 

Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote this in her book, “It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us.” This is noteworthy in the current discussion on the legislative move to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years.

A survey of the criminal laws of our neighboring countries show that the minimum age of criminal responsibility is seven (7) years in Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar, Singapore, and Thailand. It is eight (8) years in Indonesia, ten (10) years in Malaysia, fourteen (14) years in Cambodia, Vietnam and Japan, and fifteen (15) years in Laos. If we consider the above facts, the proposed 12 years minimum age of criminal responsibility in the House Bill and in the Senate version should not be a cause for alarm. 

My simple understanding is that the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, which is still higher compared to most of our neighboring countries, does not mean that children aged between 12 and 15 years in conflict with the law will be treated as common criminals. They will not be imprisoned with hardened convicts or subjected to cruel punishment. Under the present law, if such a child is caught pickpocketing, the police would have to release him to his parents or relatives, back to the same community or environment, and certainly to the streets where he pickpockets some more.

So, why is there so much political noise about this legislative move when both the proponents and oppositors are one in saying that the best interest of children in conflict with the law is the primordial consideration? Will subjecting a child between 12 to 15 years of age, who acts with discernment in violating penal laws, to the appropriate intervention and diversion proceedings under Republic Act 9433, as amended, be detrimental to his interest? Or would the intervention sanctioned by the law at the earliest opportunity ultimately help the child in his development as a person? Will House Bill 8858 and its Senate version lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years violate any internationally recognized right of a child?

Those opposing the impending lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years posit that the remedy is not the amendment of the present law, but a better and stricter implementation particularly of this provision of the law and the improvement of youth care facilities. But should we not do both?     

Other than lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, House Bill 8858 introduces significant amendments to R.A. 9344 by expanding the scope of the reformation and rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law and strengthening the social reintegration programs. Among others, the approved bill mandates the DSWD, instead of the local government units, to fund and manage the Bahay Pag-asa. It provides intervention programs, including parenting seminars and counselling, for parents and guardians of children in conflict with the law.

 Clinton also said, “We are living in an interdependent world where what our children hear, see, feel, and learn will affect how they grow up and who they turn out to be. Home is a child’s first and most important classroom.”  From the first moment of reason, children are taught by their parents and older siblings what is right and wrong. As early as pre-school, teachers remind their pupils of tender age that violating the rules of discipline would result to consequences or punishment. If a 7-year old in Singapore knows that he should not spit in public on pain of punishment, a 12-year old in the Philippines would normally have the discernment to know that bullying or hurting others, stealing property and committing other crimes are wrong and would have legal consequences. Why give them a blanket exemption from responsibility for criminal acts? They need help at the earliest opportunity and obviously the best help is neither an exemption from criminal responsibility nor imprisonment with hardened criminals.

The amendment simply wants to place the 12-year old child in conflict with the law under the intervention and diversion proceedings of the law. It does not appear however in the House Bill that a child between 12-15 years of age should be committed to a youth care facility for reformation at the earliest opportunity for less serious crimes because only those committing serious crimes or who are repeat offenders shall be placed under mandatory commitment.

Is it not better to insure early mandatory state-supervised intervention by professionals rather than gamble on the chance that the parents would find more time for their children or that the latter would see the light and heed their parents? What’s the point of waiting for the child committing petty to less serious offenses to reach 15 years of age before he could be committed to the Bahay Pag-asa (House of Hope)? By that time, he would have already mastered the art of pickpocketing or may have progressed to more serious crimes and has become hopeless.

The intervention and diversion processes the present law applies to a 15-year old child should also be applicable to a 12-year old, coupled with the improvement of youth care facilities to insure their optimum reformation. As they say, an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure and parents should guide their children away from criminal propensities. But if for some unfortunate reasons, their parents or guardians are unable to give them the proper supervision causing them to be in conflict with the law, the government must take care of them in a manner consistent with internationally recognized standards of child care and protection.

 We should maximize all our efforts to protect and prepare our Filipino children because they are destiny of this nation.

NATION

YOUTH

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