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  • Having a Law That Will Jail a 9-Year-Old Is a Grave Injustice to Your Child's Rights

    Child welfare groups sees it as an act of violence against children.
    by SmartParenting Staff .
Having a Law That Will Jail a 9-Year-Old Is a Grave Injustice to Your Child's Rights
PHOTO BY iStock
  • The House Committee on Justice has just approved House Bill 505, which seeks to lower the age of criminality from 15 to 9 years old. According to GMA News, the bill is still at the committee level, and a hearing has been scheduled on Tuesday, January 22, 2019, at the Senate.

    But Oriental Mindoro Rep. Salvador “Doy” Leachon, chairman of the House Justice Committee, is hoping the measure will be enacted into law before the 17th Congress ends in June this year.

    Like most child welfare groups, we believe enacting this bill into law is a grave injustice to children's rights, and it will not reduce crimes in this country.

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    The possible repercussions of jailing a child at 9 years old

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    When Senate President Tito Sotto first filed the bill that seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to 12 years old, many of our Smart Parenting readers agreed that it was just right to lower the minimum age, as it is the parents’ responsibility to discipline their children. “Kung matino tayong magulang, kampante tayo na kahit 12 years old pa ang minimum, hindi apektado ang mga anak natin,” said one commenter.

    But while we may not see it now, research has found that criminalizing children adversely affects their future prospects and makes them more likely to reoffend as adults. The United Kingdom, which has the lowest age of criminal responsibility in Europe at 8 to 10 years old, have found that many of the children who commit crimes are often the victims of crime themselves.

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    A report by UK's Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST), which explores the scientific research on mental and moral development connected to the age of criminal responsibility, states, “There are high rates of mental illness and substance misuse among children who offend.”

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    “Many have learning disabilities, communication difficulties, and neuro-developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This raises additional concerns about their ability to participate in criminal proceedings.”

    According to research, the period of adolescence (between 10 to 19 years old) shows an increase in “impulsive, risk-taking, and sensation-seeking behavior.” Adolescents are less able to consider the perspective of others when making decisions and prioritize immediate rewards over long-term consequences.

    “Research has shown that adolescents can make decisions in a similar way to adults but their decision-making and behavior in real life is highly influenced by external factors such as peers and social cues,” the POST's research adds. “Adolescents place high value on peer relationships and are hypersensitive to social exclusion. They are more likely to commit crimes in groups, with solo-offending becoming more common when individuals are in their 20s.”

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    Lowering the age of criminal responsibility is an act of violence against children

    Child welfare organizations like the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, or UNICEF, and Save the Children have expressed their concerns about the repercussions of the amended bill, which they say “goes against the letter and spirit of child rights.”

    “Lowering the age of criminal responsibility is an act of violence against children,” UNICEF Philippines said in a statement on its Facebook page. “Children in conflict with the law are already victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty and exploitation by adult crime syndicates. Children who are exploited and drive by adults to commit crimes need to be protected, not further penalized. Instead, they should be given a second chance to reform and to rehabilitate.”

    The UNICEF also argues that 9-year-olds are not fully capable of discernment. “Scientific studies show that brain function reaches maturity only at around 16 years old, affecting children’s reasoning and impulse control. Proposals to lower the age of criminal responsibility argue that children as young as 9 years old are criminally mature and are already capable of discernment. If this was the case, then why is the legal age to enter marriage, legal contracts, and employment in the Philippines at 18 years old?” (Read the full statement here).

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    “A nine-year-old child has not yet even reached the age of puberty and their brains are not developed to understand the consequences of actions.”

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    How we can support our children to be accountable for their actions

    According to the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development Foundation (Plcpd Foundation), lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not result in lower crime rates. Statistics from the Philippine National Police show that only 1.72% of reported crimes are committed by children. Most of these are petty crimes like theft, which is commonly linked to poverty. “Children are victims of the circumstances they are born into,” says the Plcpd Foundation in an infographic posted on their Facebook page.

    Like others, the Plcpd pushes for RA 9344 to be implemented, as it creates a separate justice system for children. “It focuses on prevention and intervention programs like counseling. In a serious offense, youth may go to a youth care facility or a Bahay Pag-asa Center and undergo rehabilitation,” said the Plcpd. “However, the law is often not implemented because of weak government commitment.”

    Adds UNICEF, “Detaining children will not teach them accountability for their actions. In order to maximize their potential to contribute to nation-building, children must grow up in a caring, nurturing, and protective environment. This requires strong parenting support programs and access to health, education, and social services as well as to child-sensitive justice and social welfare systems.”

    Branding children as criminals remove accountability from adults who are responsible for safeguarding them. If children who have been exploited by criminal syndicates are penalized instead of the adults who abused them, we fail to uphold the rights and well-being of children.

    "If we fail to understand the underlying reasons how and why children commit crimes, we as adults, fail our children.”

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