You are on page 1of 7

Lowering the Minimum Age of Criminal

Responsibility
I. Introduction
One of the most controversial issues in the country today is the
lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility. The legislature seeks
to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from fifteen to twelve.
Presently, we have an existing law on juvenile delinquents, the Republic
Act No. 9344 also known as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.
The law provides that a child fifteen (15) years of age or under at the time of
the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability.
However, the child shall be subjected to an intervention program pursuant.
While the law provides that the child in conflict with the law should be placed
under an intervention program, that program is not yet in place. Otherwise,
arrested minors would have already undergone it.
Consequently, the downside of the law resulted to a movement by our
legislature for the passage of House Bill 6052, titled "An Act Strengthening
the Juvenile Justice System in the Philippines," amending some provisions of
RA 9344. This bill seeks to strengthen the country's juvenile justice system by
imposing penalties on youthful offenders involving crimes like murder,
kidnapping, rape, robbery, arson, carnapping, drug trafficking and other
offenses. In turn, they will be subjected to a community-based intervention
program to be supervised by a local social welfare and development officer.
However, the introduction of the HB 6052 raises positive and negative
commentaries from the public. Child rights advocates considered the
minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of 12 years to be
internationally unacceptable. On the contrary, law enforcers find it acceptable
because it will suppress the increasing crime incidents involving minors. For
this reason, the issue is whether or not to lower the minimum age of criminal
responsibility from 15 to 12 years old. This paper will look into the advantages
and disadvantages of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility and
will present discussions and recommendations on the issue.

II. Advantages and Disadvantages


Issue:
Whether or not to lower the minimum age of criminal
responsibility from 15 to 12 years old?
The advantages of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility
from 15 to 12 years old are the following:
1. Heinous crimes are being committed by children and reports show
that minors are being hired by the criminal gangs and syndicates,
such as kidnapping, homicide, drug dealing, and robbery in order to
avoid arrest and prosecution. Exempting the age brackets of 12-15
from criminal liability could be used by unscrupulous minds to justify
the offenders criminal acts. No doubt that incarcerating these
children will deter syndicates from hiring and conspiring with them.
2. The massive influences of modern media have given minors
immense awareness of their surroundings. Children today are, they
said, much more discerning than those ten years ago. Thus, it just
right to lower the criminal responsibility of minors.
3. There are now many criminal cases involving minors below 15 years
old. Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will be of great help
to the law enforcement agencies who faced difficulty on treating
children in conflict with the law with age bracket 12 to 15 who acted
with discernment.
On the contrary, the disadvantages of lowering the minimum age of
criminal responsibility are the following:
1. Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12
undermines efforts to build a child-friendly justice system. A child who
violated the law needs intervention in a rehabilitation center. The child
should not be treated like an adult offender.
2. Youth offenders will increase, the jails will become crowded and we will
have a generation who by the circumstances of poverty, deprivation,

lack of education, and manipulation of syndicates will become


criminals. This punitive rather than reformative action of society will
deprive misguided youth the chance for a better or a reformed life.
3. Setting 12 as the minimum age for those who can be arrested will not
lower crime rates because criminal gang or syndicate will only hire
children below 12 years old in their operations, hence we are not
solving anything.
4. Lowering the criminal responsibility will not solve the problem, instead
putting children in conflict with the law into cell will simply harden them
further as criminals.
III. Discussion
The Philippines is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child (UNCRC). Article 40 of the UNCRC requires signatory states to: seek to
promote the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and institutions
specifically applicable to children alleged as, accused of, or recognized as
having infringed the penal law, and, in particular, the establishment of a
minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the
capacity to infringe the penal law. The UNCRC does not specify any particular
minimum age of criminal responsibility, but the United Nations committee
responsible for monitoring compliance with it has criticised jurisdictions in
which the minimum age is 12 or less. The general philosophy behind this
approach is explained in the official commentary to the United Nations
Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the
Beijing Rules): The minimum age of criminal responsibility differs widely
owing to history and culture. The modern approach would be to consider
whether a child can live up to the moral and psychological components of
criminal responsibility; that is, whether a child, by virtue of her or his
individual discernment and understanding, can be held responsible for
essentially antisocial behaviour. If the age of criminal responsibility is fixed

too low or if there is no age limit at all, the notion of responsibility would
become meaningless.
The House of Representatives has adjusted the minimum age of
criminal liability for youth offenders from 15 years old to 12. House Bill (HB)
6052, is passed to amend Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and
Welfare Act of 2006. If the offense charged is murder, parricide, homicide,
kidnapping, rape, robbery, drug trafficking or other offenses punishable by
more than 12 years of jail time, the youth offender shall be presumed to have
acted with discernment. A child who commits an offense more than two times
shall, meanwhile, be deemed as a neglected child and shall undergo an
intensive intervention program supervised by the local social welfare and
development officer, the proposed law states.

HB 6052 also deters the

exploitation of juveniles by providing stiffer penalties to persons who, in the


commission of a crime, takes advantage of or profits from the use of children.
Each province and highly urbanized city is also required to build youth
detention homes to be known as "Bahay Pag-asa."
However, many opposed to the measure because it neither strengthens
the country's juvenile justice system nor it promotes the welfare of children
and young people. 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.
Childrens rights advocates are unfavorable to lower the minimum age
of criminal responsibility. According to them, if we are going to put these
children in conflict with the law into cell, nobody will accept them in any job or
if there is, very few after they served their sentence. Their life will be wasted
in an early age. They could have become a significant asset in our society
only if they will be reformed and be lead to the right path again. Talents and
skills that could have been nurtured will be simply thrown away because they
will be full of hatred once they are out in the cell. Statistical data reveals that
lowering the age for criminal liability does not lower the crime rates.

Children in poverty fight to traverse a dangerous landscape every day.


Children do not select their families. Children are unable to choose where they
live and what kind of education they can afford. Children do not have the
ability to decide on their socio-economic status. But when they step inside a
courtroom, the consequences from all of these variables come weighing down
on their shoulders with the swift stroke of a gavel. This is the end result of a
life with little-to-no options that many children in conflict with the law
confront.
Apparently, it is hunger, lack of education and dysfunctional families
that put children in a position that increases their tendencies of getting
involved in, say, robbery or substance abuse. No one is born a thief, a
murderer, a drug addict or a criminal. It is hunger and extreme poverty that
pushes them to hijack a jeep and rob its passengers of their possessions; it is
dysfunctional families that lead them to be dependent on alcohol or illegal
drugs; it is the lack of education and opportunities that push them to look for
easy money.
Moreover, some children are predisposed to get involved in criminal
activities and violence due to their social milieu. Since the police are in the
forefront of the fight against crime, they lead in the effort to seek an
amendment to or repeal RA 9344. The law is a pain in the neck, so to speak,
of the police. Thus, the proposed amendment for a lower age of criminal
responsibility is a preventive measure that aims to make children realize the
criminal nature of their deeds and fear punishment.
Though the message of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is
that criminalization of children should be avoided, this does not mean that
young offenders should be treated as if they have no responsibility. On the
contrary, it is important that young offenders are held responsible for their
actions and, for instance, take part in repairing the damage that they have
caused.

Detention of children should be used only as a measure of last resort


and for the shortest appropriate period of time, as the UN Convention says.
Such

detentions

should

take

place

in

specific

and

children-friendly

establishments and be separated from adult prisoners and, in particular, from


hard-core criminals. Contact with the family should be encouraged and
facilitated, if that is in the best interests of the child.
IV. Recommendation
Children in conflict with the law must be treated as victims of various
social ills, and not just like any ordinary criminals by our government. For the
longest time, children as the most vulnerable sector in our society have been
suffering from extreme poverty, hunger, homelessness among others. These
underlying issues are the reasons why children are forced to break the law.
The government should prioritize programs that provide the basic needs of
young people like food, education and shelter.
Adverse life condition increases the vulnerability of children. It is
therefore imperative that our government address these long-term socioeconomic issues if we are to solve the phenomenon of children in conflict with
the law. In lowering the minimum age of criminal liability, the government
must ensure that childrens condition should be humane and take into
account the special needs of an individual of that age. Full-time education is
particularly essential. For each young offender there should be an individual
programme of rehabilitation, a plan that should continue after the detention
period with the support of parents/guardians, teachers and social workers.

Notes:
1. http://jurist.org/sidebar/2012/05/edsel-tupaz-phillipines-juveniles.php

2. http://www.crin.org/en/library/publications/human-rights-dimensionjuvenile-justice
3. http://www.aic.gov.au/documents/0/0/A/%7B00A92691-0908-47BF9311-01AD743F01E1%7Dti181.pdf
4. http://www.sunstar.com.ph/manila/local-news/2012/06/06/minimumage-criminal-liability-lowered-12-225507
5. http://www.hrw.org/news/2007/06/10/georgia-lowering-age-criminalresponsibility-flouts-international-standards