MANILA, Philippines – Back in 2006, Congress passed what would become Republic Act No. 934 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) that set the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old. It was signed into law by former president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In a statement issued Monday, January 21, Child Rights Network (CRN) asked Congress about its turnaround when it passed the bill lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility. It pointed out that this new bill is being backed by the same person who signed the JJWA into law.
“We remember how, just in recent months, significant progress has already been achieved after discussions with Justice committee members. Discussions on the minimum age of criminal responsibility in recent months have already shifted to the strengthening of the implementation of the JJWA. Now, we beg to ask: what happened Congress?” CRN said in its statement.
CRN is the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the country. The group also said that the bill is not only a “stark mockery of the field of child development," it is also bereft of scientific evidence.
“The repercussions of charging and convicting children at a young age, even if there are certain token safeguards as regards custody, are beyond disconcerting. Studies show how children in conflict with the law, without undergoing proper rehabilitation and reintegration, face a troubled future,” CRN added.
The group also debunked the argument made by Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Salvador Leachon that the bill aims to put children in reformative institutions. According to CRN, the lack of child-caring institutions in the Philippines essentially puts children at risk of also being detained in crowded adult detention centers. (READ: Lower criminal age of responsibility? Fully implement Juvenile Justice law first)
Under the JJWA, each of the 81 provinces and 33 highly-urbanized cities in the country should establish a Bahay Pag-Asa to provide intervention programs for children in conflict with the law. However, as of June 2018, CRN said only 55 Bahay Pag-Asa centers are operational.
President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed for the lowering of the age of criminal liability to 9 years old since his 2016 presidential campaign.
The Senate is also expected to conduct an inquiry on Tuesday, January 22, on the two pending bills that are pushing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12. (READ: Sotto: Senate to prioritize bill lowering age of criminal liability)
Several groups have already slammed the move to lower the minimum age, arguing that the bill was not made in the best interests of children. – Rappler.com