OZAMIZ CITY, Philippines — Child protection advocates are making a last ditch call on lawmakers to preserve the country’s gains in advancing children’s rights by opposing moves to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
“We appeal to our Congressmen and Senators not to undo the positive achievement that our country has reached in protecting the rights of children in conflict with the law,” said Roldan Gonzales, convenor of the national coordinating group of the Kalibutan sa Katawhan Network (Kalitawhan).
Kalitawhan groups 29 civil society groups in the country that undertakes, among others, children’s rights education and advocacy.
The bicameral conference committee to reconcile the provisions of Senate Bill No. 3324 and House Bill No. 6052 convenes Monday, according to the Senate calendar.
HB 6052 was passed on third and final reading June last year while SB 3324 was passed last month. Both measures sought to amend Republic Act No. 9344 known as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, which was crafted in 2006.
HB 6052 seeks to lower the minimum age for criminal responsibility for minors who acted with discernment from the current 15 years old to 12 years old. However, SB 3324 seeks to keep it at 15 years old.
Even as the measures differ in the aspect of age, both sought to strengthen the “intervention program” for minor offenders.
While exempting 15-year-olds and younger from criminal liability, the Senate version, however, stipulates that they will have to face civil liabilities arising from their actions. Such liability for restitution, reparation and indemnification for consequential damages will be borne by their parents or guardians exercising parental authority over teenage offenders.
Gonzales said that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from the current standard would be a “human rights setback” for the country.
Gonzales noted that RA 9344 “made the Philippines a pioneer in the Asian region in upholding international child rights standards, like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in the administration of juvenile justice.”
RA 9344 raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from nine years old to 15 years old, a move lauded by the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child in its October 2009 concluding observations on the Philippines.
In an earlier letter sent to legislators, Kalitawhan noted that present moves to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility came amid the challenge of making RA 9344 work.
It cited the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child concluding observations in 2009 outlining, among others, that “children in conflict with the law do not effectively have legal safeguards and access to medical care, and there is a limited use of diversion.”
It also noted “allegations of the widespread practice of pre-trial detention of children; the lack of specialised courts for children; and the practice of detaining children along with adults in overcrowded facilities mired in poor conditions.”
“Since the mandated budget allocation for the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) and local programmes has not been realized, much of these mentioned conditions remain until now,” Kalitawhan stressed.
“Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility will only increase the number of children undergoing criminal proceedings under conditions that violate their rights,” Kalitawhan added.