A Philippine Human Rights NGO providing Psychosocial Services and Rehabilitation to Internally Displaced Persons and Survivors of Torture and Organized Violence.

REHABILITATION, NOT PUNITIVE ACTIONS: Statement on Lowering the Age of Criminal Liability

The ardent moves in Congress to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old reflects the weakness, if not utter lack, of rehabilitation programs in the country.

The approval of House Committee on Justice last January 21 of a substitute bill seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility fails to recognize that children that are in conflict with the law have to be educated and given opportunities for full development. Even though legislators also recognize that some crimes are committed by children at the direction of criminal adults and even syndicates, they direct the punishment on the children and not the reasons for the crimes.

Balay Rehabilitation Centers asks legislators to stop moves to lower the age of criminal responsibility and focus on putting forward bills on rehabilitation. The victimization of children must be stopped. Justice demands that children must be given the chance for a brighter future.

We call on legislators to recognize also that the current law, RA 9344, has not been fully implemented. There needs to be more support to achieve its desired goal -- intervention and diversion programs.  Social workers are few and competency for case management, counselling, home visits and family system intervention needs improvement; most Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC) have no active programs, staff are ill equipped and budget appropriations not optimized.

Legislators must also take into account scientific studies showing evidence that the child’s brain development continues to develop and only matures at the age of 16. Hence, the lack of capability to discern and fully understand the consequences of their actions.

Instead of criminalizing children and depriving them of their liberty, legislators should look into pressing issues that burdens the Filipino people and impacts children in poor communities.  Children should be able to have food, access to free education, adequate healthcare, proper guidance and a home where a child’s future can be nurtured rather than curtailing their dreams at a very young age.

We ask our Senators to block the passage of the substitute bill and fulfill our obligations as signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Child and “pursuant to the provisions of the Philippine Constitution and Philippine special laws protecting children.” We also call on to fellow child’s rights advocates and to the public to show our collective efforts to uphold the rights of our children, the hope of our future.