Groups decry bill lowering minimum age of criminal responsibility, call for sober discussion of the issue

February 16, 2017

Children’s rights advocates vowed to intensify the campaign to oppose proposals in Congress to lower the current minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to nine years old.

In a press conference in Quezon City on Thursday, February 16, groups belonging to two large child-focused networks—Child Rights Network (CRN) and Philippine Action for Youth Offenders (PAYO)—called on legislators to vote against House Bill 2 and five other bills that seek to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, gathering experts and consolidating evidence against lowering MACR, based on medical/psychological, legal/rights, and social work/juvenile justice perspectives.

Lowering MACR is anti-human rights and anti-poor. It is a wrong solution to the problem it seeks to address. It goes against the rights and best interests of children, especially those in conflict with the law, the groups said.

“Studies have shown that criminalizing children leads to recidivism. Detention and/or incarceration of children have also been linked to adverse effects on a child’s mental, physical and emotional development, as they are likely to be subjected to discrimination and abuse while detained. Furthermore, jailing children deny them of opportunities for advancement through education, and future employment,” the groups declared in a separate statement.

Instead of lowering MACR, the advocates expressed optimism that strengthening implementation of the JJWA through adequate funding, capacity building of implementers especially at the local government level, investment in human resource, and public awareness programs, among others, is the more proper, sound, and rights-based solution to the problem of children being involved in criminal activities.

Advocates also committed to support filed resolutions in both houses of Congress, such as those by Rep. Kaka Bag-ao and colleagues in the House of Representatives, and Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian in the Senate, to review the implementation of JJWA towards the exercise of legislative oversight on implementation in order to come up with policy recommendations to address gaps in the existing law or in its implementation.

The groups also decry how House of Representatives Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, main proponent of the bill, resorts to intimidation to defend the proposal.

“Time and again, we hear Speaker Alvarez threatening or bullying government officials, insisting they should resign if they oppose the bill. This is very unprofessional and very undemocratic. Members of Congress are elected by the people and should therefore represent their interests, not those of the Speaker,” said Romeo Dongeto of the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development, convenor of CRN.

“Deliberations should be won based on arguments, not on political pressure,” he added.

The press conference is part of a series of media events that CRN and PAYO have launched to oppose lowering of MACR. Since January, the groups have conducted regional press briefings in the National Capital Region, Cordillera, Davao, Cebu and Bicol. The groups have also brought the campaign online through the #ChildrenNotCriminals social media campaign and an online petition at Change.org.