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12 senators expressed support to child rights advocates

Twelve sitting senators have expressed support to the call of child rights advocates to not pass the bill that seeks to consider as criminals children as young as 12 years old who are in conflict with the law.  This was reported by representatives of the children’s coalition who talked to lawmakers at the resumption of the senate session on May 20, 2019.

Members of the coalition who gathered at the entrance of the senate compound to show their opposition to the lowering of the age of criminal liability greeted the development with guarded optimism.  A delegation of Balay to the public action said that they are still hoping that the proposed law will not be passed before the current membership of the legislative chambers is reorganized in July, following the midterm elections in May 13. 

The current minimum age of criminal liability is set at 15 years old under the existing Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. But lawmakers who want to replace it argue that charging and detaining younger children for serious unlawful acts would discourage criminal groups from using minors in their illegal deeds.

“Let us continue our principled stand and persevere with our lobby efforts,” the Balay delegation said, noting that many lawmakers are still bent on changing the juvenile justice law.

According to Balay, replacing the current Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act might increase the abuse against children at risk. Citing its records, it noted that minors who are apprehended by authorities often complain of being ill treated, if not tortured, as a form of punishment and dissuade them from straying in the streets. Others are threatened with, or actually harmed, to exact bribe money, and to force an admission or a confession on the offense that they are accused with.

It recalled that the aggressive police actions against illegal drugs have led to the summary execution of a 17-year old student Kian Delos Santos in Caloocan City last year. 

The House of Representatives has earlier passed its version of the proposed law that seeks to deprive the liberty of children as young as 9 years old who will commit serious crimes – such as murder, parricide, infanticide, serious illegal detention, carnapping, and violation of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. The bill also proposed that child offenders be subjected to "mandatory confinement" for rehabilitation at Bahay Pag-Asa juvenile facilities.

According to the Children Legal Rights Network, where Balay is a co-convener, lowering the minimum age of criminal liability will not stop syndicates from using children. Rather, it will encourage syndicates to use children younger than 9 or 12 years old. It added that a child should not be held to the same standards as adults as they differ significantly in decision-making, propensity to engage in risky behaviour, impulse control, identity development, and overall maturity.