July 8, 2016
The Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) registered its opposition to the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR), maintaining that such move violates children’s rights.
PLCPD Executive Director Romeo Dongeto expressed grave concern about House Bill No. 2, which seeks to amend Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and revert the MACR from 15 to nine (9) years old.
“Punishing children for actions whose consequences they do not fully comprehend or that they were coerced to do will not solve criminality. If the problem is exploitation of children to commit criminal acts, then this is the wrong solution and will only create more problems,” Dongeto said in a statement.
PLCPD joins the chorus of children’s rights advocates who vehemently oppose lowering MACR. Children’s rights champions had pushed the enactment of RA 9344, which raised MACR to 15, in 2006, building their case based on Philippines’ commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC) and evidence from neuroscience, psychology and sociology.
“Scientific evidence shows that children’s brain is not yet fully developed affecting their decision-making capacity and discernment, which may lead to risky behavior and bad choices,” Dongeto explained.
“Children are vulnerable to coercion and deception by adults. In many cases, they are pushed to do crime by poverty and parental neglect or abuse. So why jail children in conflict with the law (CICL) when they are actually victims of circumstance?” he said.
Dongeto also stressed that lowering MACR violates UNCRC, which recognizes children’s rights and mandates states to consider the best interest of a child in crafting policies and programs.
“No less than President Duterte, in his inaugural speech, said that his administration will uphold our international commitments. Congress should follow his example and abide by UNCRC. But above this, protecting children is our moral obligation,” Dongeto added.
Dongeto also urged the government to strengthen programs for CICL, underscoring the need for diversion or rehabilitative services.
“Punishing CICL deprive them of the chance of rebuilding their lives and improving their character. Instead of punishing children, we should ensure that they grow up in an environment free of violence and where their rights to development and protection are respected and fulfilled so that they become productive and law-abiding citizens in the future,” Dongeto concluded.