LOWERING the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to nine is a “great child violation,” the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) agency in the Philippines warned.
In an interview with The Guardian, UNICEF Philippine Representative Lotta Sylwander said that the bid to jail children as young as nine years old is “wrong from every angle.”
“If they grow up, spending their teenage years in a prison, they most probably will be damaged for life,” Sylwander said.
She argued that children that age are unable to fully comprehend the consequences of a crime.
“Apart from the fact that it’s against human rights, it’s very unfair to a child, to punish them in such a harsh way as the criminal system would be, for something that they never understood was that serious,” Sylwander said.
Sylwander also claimed that such law will not lower criminality and might, instead, have an opposite result.
“It doesn’t fix the problem, it’s a great child violation and it will be a great burden on the criminal system, an unnecessarily burden,” she pointed out. “By incarcerating children at such a young age, they in fact become well-trained criminals by being brought up in prisons with other criminals.”
Among the bills that sought to revert the criminal liability back to 9 years old include the “Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act” filed by House Speaker Bebot Alvarez and Representative Fredenil Castro.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who backs the proposal on lowering the age of criminal liability, originally wanted it to go down to 12 years old.
Several senators, however, proposed lowering it to 9 years old.
Although Alvarez and Castro acknowledged that the intent of Pangilinan’s bill to protect the youth was “laudable,” they argued that R.A. 9344 or the Juvenile Delinquency Act of 2006 “pampers” the young offenders.
“Its effects have had the opposite effects: The pampering of youthful offenders knowing they can get away with it. Worse, adult criminals individually, or in organized cabals knowingly and purposely make use of youth below 15 years of age to commit crimes,” Alvarez and Castro’s bill read.
In an earlier statement, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said a minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of 12 years is considered ‘internationally unacceptable.’
Sylwander also criticized Duterte for ignoring the statistics of the national police which show that less than 2 percent of the total crimes in the country are committed by children below 15.
“It seems he rarely listens to facts, or doesn’t find out the facts before he talks,” she said.
Sylwander also condemned Duterte’s war on drugs that has reportedly led to the casualties of several children.
“Yes, children are used as petty sellers…but why go after the children who do not understand what they are doing instead of going for the big syndicates?” Sylwander said.
She went on to say, “It seems there is less effort to get the big guys. You shoot the small gangsters or the small drug traders in the slum areas and the poor areas. But there seems to be no real, concerted efforts to get the big drug lords in the country. And there are quite a few.”