European civil society groups want bill lowering criminal liability age scrapped
MANILA, Philippines — European civil society groups have joined calls against the passage of a bill that seeks to hold minors as young as 12 years old criminally liable.
In a letter to Senator Francis Pangilinan, the groups urged Congress to retain the present minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) at 15 years old.
The letter, dated February 6, was signed by representatives of 16 organizations based in different countries in Europe.
“As the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act in its current form has been approved under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, we call on the Philippine House of Representatives and Senate to refrain from adopting any reforms to lower the age of criminal responsibility,” the groups said.
Incidentally, the House of Representatives, now headed by Speaker Arroyo, has already passed the bill lowering the MACR to 12 years old.
A similar measure was already approved by a Senate panel but senators have yet to vote on it on the floor.
The groups nevertheless urged the Senate not to pass the measure.
“We call on you to uphold the international principles of justice and children rights. We call on you to ensure that House MACR Bill does not pass,” they said.
“The reduction of criminal responsibility may punish the kid, but it will only exacerbate and not solve the societal problems you seek to address.”
As signatory to the United Convention on the Rights of the Child, the groups reminded Congress that the Philippines should uphold the country’s commitment to the convention, whose thrust is to make member states “progressively raise the age of criminal responsibility.”
But the bill, the groups said, undermines all efforts to building a child friendly juvenile justice system that supports rehabilitation and reintegration.
“As the most neglected group of society, children from marginalized socio-economic backgrounds are vulnerable to physical and psychological abuses when locked away in rehabilitation or detention centers and prisons, especially when incarcerated together with adults,” they said.
“Such cases are a strong violation of the principle of the “child`s best interest” as formulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that has been ratified by the Philippine government,” they added.
Proponents of the measure have repeatedly clarified that under the proposal, no children would be rehabilitated, and would not be put in jail.
The groups nevertheless warned that depriving children of their liberty could lead to “long-term and costly psychological and physical damage, whilst overcrowding and poor detention conditions threaten their development, health and well-being.”
“ The removal of children from their family and community networks as well as from educational or vocational opportunities at critical and formative periods in their lives can compound social and economic disadvantage and marginalization,” they said.
“Exposure to criminal influences and violent behavior whilst in detention is likely to encourage repeat offending.” /muf
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