No to HB 6052: Don’t Lower Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility
On June 4, 2012, Monday, the House of Representatives passed on third reading House Bill 6052 which seeks to amend RA9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006. Kabataan Partylist Representative Raymond Palatino was one of the 9 legislators who opposed the measure which would lower the minimum age for criminal responsibility from 15 to 12. Last May 21, Palatino rose to interpellate the sponsor of the bill in the plenary session. Below is Palatino’s statement after the voting.
I vote ‘NO’ to HB 6052 since it neither strengthens the country’s juvenile justice system nor it promotes the welfare of children and young people. In fact, it undermines efforts to build a child-friendly justice system by lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12. A grade six student who violated the law needs intervention in a rehabilitation center. The child should not be treated like an adult offender.
The sponsor of the bill cites news and anecdotal reports of the various heinous crimes allegedly committed by children to justify the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Criminal gangs and syndicates are reportedly hiring minors in order to avoid arrest and prosecution. The logical solution is to run after the gangs and prevent them from exploiting children. It requires efficient police work. But since we are unable to catch the adult masterminds and other underworld untouchables, we prefer instead to focus our righteous indignation against children (they are called youthful offenders in the bill, a Marcos-era term which was already discarded in the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 because it unjustly reinforces negative attitude towards children). Unfortunately, children are seen as easy and naïve targets whose arrest and detention can be used to enhance police image.
The sponsor blames the law for the surge in crimes allegedly committed by children in the past six years. But police statistics show that only 2.86 percent of total crime index is related to children. Therefore, it’s unfair to blame children for the breakdown of peace and order in some parts of the country. Then and now, we live in an adult-controlled society which is why children must be seen as victims, and not conscious perpetrators, of criminality.
It must be emphasized that the law doesn’t absolve children who committed crimes. The accused, even if he is a minor, still has to face civil liability if found guilty by the courts and his sentence is merely suspended until he reach the age of 18. What the law requires is the placing of children in rehabilitation centers instead of lumping them with hardened criminals in regular prison cells.
Instead of amending a six-year old law, we should review and ask if it’s being properly implemented by local and law enforcement authorities. Section 15 mandates the creation of Local Councils for the Protection of Children (LCPC) in all levels of government and their funding is to be sourced from the 1 percent of the Internal Revenue Allotment of barangays, cities, and municipalities. The LCPC is in charge of monitoring the juvenileintervention program at the local and community level. How many LCPCs are existing today?
Do we have sufficient youth detention homes in the country? How many youth rehabilitation centers and youth detention facilities are actually serving the needs of the young today? What is the status of intervention programs in community centers, agricultural camps and training facilities? How much was allotted for the operations of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC)?
These are the questions and issues we must first tackle and resolve before quickly jumping into conclusion that the prescribed minimum age of criminal responsibility is responsible for the surge of criminality in the country.
According to JJWC, there are only 30 youth detention facilities in the country. There are 3 provincial youth homes, 34 at the city level, and 32 at the municipality level. There are 12 youth homes managed by NGOs. As of February 2012, there are 440 children who are detained in adult prisons because of the lack of youth reformatory institutions. Meanwhile, the national government has neglected to provide funds to the JJWC despite the latter’s crucial mission to uphold restorative justice in the country.
It is clear from the foregoing that we have been remiss in implementing the pertinent provisions of the law. Furthermore, we failed to adopt key measures that would have prevented or discouraged the youth from being involved in criminal or anti-social activities. Yet we choose to highlight or sensationalize a few cases of crimes committed by children to justify the premodern practice of locking up children in prison cells.
Theft is the top crime committed by children based on police records. Theft is a poverty crime. Children steal because they need to eat and survive. The challenge is to stop children from stealing and the best approach is to ensure that we are able to provide them with basic social services. Give them proper education, housing, food, clothing, and emotional support to shield them from the world of crime. Prevent child abuse in families to boost the moral and psychological health of children.
But it seems we are too fixated with the idea of children criminals lurking somewhere in the neighborhood and secretly plotting their next evil act against our families that we failed to see the epic failure of the state to respect the essential human rights of our children. Perhaps we exaggerated the threat of ‘youthful offenders’ to hide the crimes of the Philippine state against the Filipino children. We desire and demand the punishment of children criminals but what about the punishment for the direct and indirect perpetrators of crimes against children?