The United Nations Children’s Fund has appealed to lawmakers not to lower the minimum age of criminal liability as the Senate tackles today a proposal to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.
“Do not lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Children in conflict with the law are already victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty and exploitation by adults. Children need access to rehabilitation services because they deserve a second chance. They need to be protected and not further penalized,” Unicef said in a statement marking the 13th anniversary of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act.
“Unicef makes this urgent call today and reiterates its commitment to promote the rights of all children, including children in conflict with the law and children-at-risk. As we celebrate this milestone, let us be reminded that all children must be treated with dignity and accorded their inalienable rights with utmost respect and protection,” it added.
Earlier, Senate President Vicente Sotto III expressed optimism that the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal liability will be passed by the Senate before the 17th Congress ends in June.
“There is still hope. We will surely tackle it,” Sotto said.
The bill is part of the agenda during today’s majority caucus in the Senate where priority measures that need to be passed in the final three weeks of the 17th Congress will be discussed.
The measure has reached the Senate plenary for debates, while its counterpart at the House of Representatives has been approved on third and final reading.
The Senate bill proposes that “a child below 12 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from liability. However, the child shall be subjected to an intervention program.”
“A child 12 years of age and above but below 18 years of age shall likewise be exempt from liability and be subjected to an intervention program, unless the child has acted with discernment, in which case such child shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings.”
Those who commit a serious crime, according to the pending measure, would be sent to Juvenile Reformatory Centers, also called ‘Bahay Pag-asa.’
Serious crimes include parricide; murder; infanticide; kidnapping; serious illegal detention where the victim is killed or raped; robbery with homicide or rape; destructive arson; rape; and offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 that are punishable by more than 12 years imprisonment.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development will be responsible for building, funding and operating ‘Bahay Pag-asa.’
Unicef, however, stressed that the law is clear that detention should be the last resort.
“There have been efforts to undermine the impact of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act by proposing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Using misleading information, there are those who claim that the law has failed. But this is not a fact. The law cannot fail if it is fully and effectively implemented,” the UN body said.
“Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is not the answer. Putting children in prison or detaining them will only cause more harm to the child and to the community,” it added.