Lowering age of criminal responsibility cruel and absurd

(Continued from Feb. 5, 2019)

MOREOVER, it must not be lost on us that the protection of children and the promotion of their development are not merely moral and social obligations premised on scientific facts. They are also obligations imposed by our own laws as well as those adhered to by the international community.

The 1987 Constitution explicitly makes that the promotion and protection of the youth’s physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual, and social well-being a state policy. In line with that policy, the country has enacted statutes, such as Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, that proscribe acts and conditions detrimental to a child’s development.

The Philippines is also a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a treaty adopted by almost every country in the world. By signing and ratifying the said instrument, the Philippines has committed itself to a core principle – that, in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. With a criminal justice system in serious need of reform and funding, a law that only promises to throw more, and even younger, children into that same system flies in the face of such a principle.

Fortunately, the current efforts to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility has been met with strong opposition from various organizations involved in the advancement of child welfare. Even UNICEF has expressed its concerns about the proposed legislation, stating that lowering the age of criminal responsibility “goes against the letter and spirit of child rights”, and characterizing the move as “an act of violence against children.

Yet, Congress – dominated by allies of the President – appears hell-bent on passing the bill. This should not come as a surprise since the imposition and enforcement of draconian laws against a defenseless people, without regard for human rights, has been the hallmark of this administration. First, came the War on Drugs that left thousands dead in its wake. Now, the government wishes to focus its anti-crime campaign on the young and helpless.

The worst part is that, much like in President Duterte’s Drug War, it is the poor, the destitute, those with little or no resources, influence, or education – it is they whose rights are likely to be swept aside with this new “innovation” to crime- fighting.

Still, one can continue to hope that, with growing public outcry, enough legislators would recognize the danger and take a stand against the bill. If, however, the bill does pass and, eventually, becomes law, every member of Congress who casts a vote in its favor must take responsibility for each and every child whose liberty would be curtailed, whose childhood would be scarred, whose future would be jeopardized, and whose well-being, imperiled with the enforcement of such a cruel law.

If the proponents of this proposed legislation have their way, those of us who found it heart-breaking watching news footage of widows and siblings crying in the streets, while cradling blood-soaked bodies of tokhang victims in their arms, may very well have to grow accustomed to footage of nine-year-olds being taken from their mothers and dragged away by police officers and social workers. We should hope such a travesty does not come to pass.

The way forward is to address the root causes of criminality, not ignore them; it is to fix a broken system, not victimize its victims; it is to add even more protections for neglected children, not use them as cannon-fodder for an anti-crime campaign. The way forward is to reform criminals, not make them./PN


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