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Philippine Daily Inquirer / 01:33 AM March 06, 2017
An umbrella organization of child rights advocates has urged the government to address poverty and the lack of employment opportunities in the country rather than work on lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, noting that these are the top reasons children end up being exploited by criminal syndicates.
The Unity of Child Rights Advocates Against Inhumane Treatment and Neglect of Children (Unchain Children) said on Saturday that by lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years old to 9 years old, the government was effectively abandoning its responsibility to provide the youth with a decent future and depriving juvenile offenders of an opportunity to reform.
“This would take away their chance to change their lives and ruin their future. We hope that children [in conflict with the law] will be afforded the opportunity to change, and that the government [will] realize the root cause of why children are forced [into] a life of crime,” 10-year-old Trixie Manalo told the Inquirer during the group’s program in Manila.
Manalo, a child rights advocate and Unchain Children member, noted that most kids like her do not fully understand the consequences of their actions, especially if it is forced upon them by adults, such as cash-strapped and unemployed parents.
House Bill No. 2 or the “Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act authored by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro seeks to amend Republic Act No. 9344, or the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006,” by lowering the minimum age for criminal liability from the current 15 years old to 9 years old.
The lawmakers said that the measure was meant to deter minors from being used as accomplices, especially in drug-related cases.
Unchain Children spokes-person Eule Bonganay, however, said that based on recent data from the Philippine National Police, it showed that only two percent of the country’s total crime incidents were committed by children. Half of these were poverty-related crimes such as theft.
Bonganay added that despite any form of government intervention, children would continuously be victimized if economic conditions and labor opportunities remain bleak.
Gabriela secretary general Joms Salvador also pointed out that the minimum age of criminal liability under RA 9344 was backed by research since this could be considered the age when kids were capable of discerning between good and evil.
She added that if children would be treated by the government as common criminals, this could also affect their development.
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