IN THE Senate, the bill seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to 12 from 15 (in the Lower House it was nine from 15) had been refilled.
In the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act where the minimum age of criminal responsibility is set to 15, children at age 15 or under shall be exempt from criminal liability and shall be subjected to an intervention program. With a legislation lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, children as young as nine or 12 years old can be prosecuted in court and will be tried as adults.
Question: Why are our legislators so eager to lower the minimum age of criminal liability, while not doing anything to address the underlying factors as to why there are children in conflict with the law?
There are already large volumes of data showing that a lower minimum age of criminal responsibility does not result in lower crime rates. Other nations with a lower age of criminal responsibility did not see a significant reduction in the incidence of crime involving children. So why are our legislators so agog in having a law that has been proven ineffective in lowering the crime rate and even exposes children to further harm?
The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act was passed because the system where young children could actually be imprisoned was clearly not working. Even with our current justice system and the current conditions of our jail system, children in conflict with the law are exposed to overcrowded, filthy and disease-ridden prisons where even adult criminals should not be subjected to, more so if the lowering of minimum age of criminal responsibility is passed.
If the bill eventually becomes law, we are taking steps backward instead of forwarding pro-poor and pro-people legislation that would improve the lives of our fellow Filipinos. The government should focus on jailing convicted plunderers, big criminals and drug lords instead of children who are victims of state neglect.
If the government genuinely wants to lower crime rates and protect children from committing crimes, government should prioritize making sure that every child is able to attend quality and accessible education, ensure quality and accessible health care, adequate housing and increase the salaries and wages of their parents.