No to Lowering the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility from 15 to 9 Years Old
World Vision Development Foundation, Inc. is strongly opposed to any attempt of lowering the Philippine’s Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 9 years old, due to the following:
- The Philippine government should instead fully uphold and implement RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, as amended by RA 10630 which upholds the principles of restorative justice.
- Children should not fully bear the consequence of their committed crimes, which are usually or possibly influenced and exploited by the parents or abusive adults.
- Children under the age of 18 should never be tried as adults and should always be dealt within the juvenile justice system. They should not be placed in adult prisons. Capital punishment and life imprisonment should not be imposed for offenses committed by children.
- It will be a clear violation of the international human rights treaty bodies such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC), where the Philippines is a member state. UNCRC recommends that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be set between 14 to 16 years old. Lowering it to 9 years old is simply not an option.
Last 2014, there are 14,993 cases of Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) in the Philippines1. That is more than one child per hour being accused or adjudged of committing an offense under Philippine laws and they are vulnerable to abuse during arrest and detention. The Philippines is home to over 15,000 Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) as of 2014 data from the Philippine National Police (PNP). Majority of these crimes were property-related wherein theft was considered the highest with the outstanding number of 5,886 cases per year.
II. Policy Environment
With the new administration’s relentless war on crime, one of the most controversial issues in juvenile justice as of the moment is the lowering of the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR). In the Philippines, RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, as amended by RA 10630, Section 6 on the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility states that “A child fifteen (15) years of age or under at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability.”
With the current movement in the legislature to lower the MACR from 15 to 9 years old, World Vision supports and adheres to the implementation of the RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, as amended by RA 10630 that places the nation in the forefront of Asian progress on juvenile justice. The law, the first of its kind in Asia, was clearly passed to bring the country closer to its obligations as a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and pursuant to the provisions of the Philippine Constitution and Philippine special laws on protecting children.
Also, the UNCRC General Comment 10 (2007) clearly states that the minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of 12 years is considered by the Committee not to be internationally acceptable.
The proposed amendment to the 2006 Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act would lower the age of criminal responsibility – the age in which children can be deemed criminally responsible for their behavior to 9 years old. This is also a direct contravention of the recommendation from the UNCRC, which has urged states to set the age of criminal responsibility at 14 to 16 in order to contribute to a juvenile justice system that is in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This amendment also contradicts the statement based on Rule 4 of the Beijing Rules that recommends that the beginning of MACR shall not be fixed at too low an age level, bearing in mind the facts of emotional, mental and intellectual maturity.
III. Studies on Discernment
Scientific studies conducted by the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) and the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) in 1997 and the Philippine Action for Youth and Offenders (PAYO) in 2002, have shown that the age of discernment (i.e. the ability to tell right from wrong and the consequences of actions) of in-school children (CWC and PLM, 1997) and out-of-school children (PAYO, 2002) are 15 years old and 18 years old, respectively2.
The issue on discernment is a crucial element in giving the verdict to CICL. In Roper, et. al. vs. Simmons, the United States Supreme Court gave three main points why CICL or juvenile offenders cannot with reliability be classified among worst offenders:
- a) Lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility are found in youth more often than in adults and are more understandable among the young. These qualities often result in impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions;
- b) Juveniles are more vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences and outside pressures, including peer pressure. This explained in part by the prevailing circumstance that juveniles have less control, or less experience with control, over their own environment; and
- c) The character of a juvenile is not as well-formed as that of an adult. The personality traits of juveniles are more transitory, less fixed.
The susceptibility of juveniles to immature and irresponsible behavior means their irresponsible conduct is not as morally reprehensible as that of an adult. From a moral standpoint, it would be misguided to equate the failings of a minor with those of an adult, for a greater possibility exists that a minor’s character deficiencies will be reformed.
IV. Calls to Action
We call on the Philippine Government to:
- Take all necessary and concrete measures to ensure that the age of criminal responsibility is not lowered, and to consider the crucial role of defining the age of discernment of children involved in crimes;
- Provide diversion or intervention program that is rights-based, age and developmentally appropriate to children in conflict with the law. Every municipality/province should have its own youth detention home for CICL that complies to standards and provide adequate budgetary allocation for it;
- Strengthen the monitoring of the plight of children in conflict with the law, especially those already detained or imprisoned. Children, particularly those who have committed minor offenses should be released immediately;
- Strengthen advocacy to properly implement RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, as amended by RA 10630 among local officials, law enforcers, and service providers. Parents and children at the community should also be oriented on JJWA, Responsible Parenthood and Child Rights and Responsibilities;
- Solicit support from the Local Government Units to establish and make their Local Council for the Protection of Children/ Barangay Council for the Protection of Children functional; and;
- Strengthen the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC), as the agency mandated to oversee the implementation of the JJWA as amended by RA 10630, and its Regional Juvenile Justice and Welfare Committee.
World Vision urges the Philippine Government to implement the principle of restorative justice, rather than retribution. Children’s delinquent past should not define their future.
“Our Vision for every child, life in all its fullness,
Our Prayer for every heart the will to make it so.”
World Vision is a Christian relief, development and advocacy organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.
World Vision serves people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or gender.
World Vision Development Foundation, Inc.
389 Quezon Avenue corner West 6th Street, West Triangle, Quezon City
Mr. Josaias Dela Cruz
Tel. No.: (02) 374-7618 to 28 local 405
Ms. Kathrine Rose Yee
Advocacy & Public Partnership Manager
Tel. No.: (02) 374-7618 to 28 local 213