Group opposes proposal to lower age of criminal liability

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/12 Sept) – A group advocating child protection has expressed opposition to the proposal lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act from 15 to nine years old.

Lawyer Romeo Cabarde, chair of Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy (Apila), told Kapehan sa Dabaw Monday that the age of children who can be held liable for crimes should not be lowered as they are “victims of a failing system” themselves.

“It reflects the kind of society that we have, what kind of people have we become. It is alarming because it leads us to what kind of society or institutions that we had established,” he said.

In a report on GMA News Online, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro have filed House Bill 002 amending the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.

In a position paper, Apila emphasized that “to amend the present law, Republic Act No. 9344, as amended by Republic Act 10630, which to begin with has not yet been fully implemented, would be to deny our children and our youth of the duties and responsibilities that we owe as responsible adults and citizens of this noble country.”

“We understand the predicament and frustration of our society when we see our children being involved in crimes and other activities that abuse and disregard the rights of others. But, we believe that the children involved in those situation, more especially those that are deprived of the protection and care owed to them by the State, the community and their parents, are also victims of the circumstances,” it added.

The group argued that the responsibility cannot be passed on totally to the children “when we have not done much yet as a society. We believe that we cannot just put the blame on the children when their families and loves ones have failed them.”

It called “for the full and effective implementation of RA 9344, as amended by RA 10360, and give it time to mature and bear its fruits.”

Cabarde said that all stakeholders must put their acts together to keep children away from harm.

Bernie Mondragon, an official of the Act for Children Alliance, said that they fear the proposed amendment might change the definition of children and may even get them vulnerable to abuses.

He said Republic Act 7610, also known as Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, states that children “are considered victims.”

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as everyone under 18 unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

But the under the Guiding Principles of the Convention, States are encouraged to “increase the age of majority if it is set below 18 and to increase the level of protection for all children under 18.”

The Guiding Principles further states: “The best interest of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them…When adults make decisions they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy and law makers. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)