Rights group urges solons to reject bill lowering MACR from 15 to 12
MANILA, Philippines — Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Sunday urged lawmakers to reject a bill proposing to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 years old to 12.
“Both houses of the Philippine Congress appear set to approve a bill that would incarcerate greater numbers of children caught up in the criminal justice system,” HRW said in a statement.
The House of Representatives has approved House Bill No. 8858 that would lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility of minor from 15 years old to 12 years old.
Meanwhile, the Senate is currently tackling its version of the measure.
“If the Philippine Congress passes the bill lowering the age criminal liability, they will be throwing many more Filipino children into a broken and debilitating system,” Carlos Conde, researcher of the HRW in the Philippines, said.
“Legislators should drop the proposed law and refocus their energies on reforming existing government facilities for children or replacing them with better options,” he added.
The HRW noted that the failure of the local governments to enforce the existing Juvenile Justice Welfare Act (JJWA) has been criticized by children’s rights advocates.
The JJWA, the HRW said, “sets out the treatment children should receive in the justice system.”
One provision under the said act requires local governments to establish “Bahay Pag-asa” or youth rehabilitation centers.
However, the HRW pointed out the “dire conditions” to which children were being subjected.
“Many government institutions for children, particularly Bahay Pagasa (House of Hope), place children in dire conditions of overcrowding, poor sanitation, and physical abuse,” the group said.
It also noted that in June, they had visited one of the facilities in Manila and found that it was “poorly run and maintained.”
“Water from the toilet leaked to the floors where dozens of children were sleeping, rust covered fenced cages in which children were locked up throughout the day, ventilation was poor, and many of the children had clear signs of skin infections, suggesting poor diet and sanitation,” the group said.
The group said that the proposed measure “would mean that more and younger children would end up in many poorly managed facilities.”
Under the bill, “Bahay Pagasa,” which was turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), will serve as the main “reformatory” for youth offenders.
“There are about 60 of these facilities around the country, most run by local governments. Many are in a state of despair,” the group said.
The HRW also slammed the President Rodrigo Duterte’s “abusive” anti-drug war campaign as it noted that it was him that called for the lowering of the age of criminal liability “to stop drug and criminal syndicates from using young children to commit criminal acts.”
“His abusive ‘war on drugs,’ in which police and their agents have summarily executed thousands of drug suspects, has resulted in the deaths of more than 90 children, according to domestic children’s rights groups,” the HRW said.
“Many children have ended up in these facilities for children under Duterte’s ‘drug war’ and its related campaign against ‘loiterers’ because the children were caught in the streets after curfew or were not wearing shirts,” it added.
The group also said that the proposed law “would be contrary to the Philippines’ international legal obligations.”
“The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child states in its draft general comment on juvenile justice that the age of criminal responsibility should be at least 14 and should under no circumstances be reduced if it has been set higher,” it said.
The HRW further noted that under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the Philippines, “the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of children should only be a last resort, and rehabilitation is a priority.”
It said that to ensure that children in conflict with the law are dealt with in a “manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offense,” an alternative from detention is “preferable.”
“The alternatives include care, guidance and supervision orders, counseling, probation, foster care, and education and vocational training programs,” the group said.
With this, Conde has called on the government to look for ways to “improve the rehabilitation of children who have broken the law” and not to put “more and younger children in horrible detention facilities out of the public view.”
“There’s a broad range of steps to help troubled children that don’t involve locking them up,” he said. /atm
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