Re­duc­ing the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity: A com­men­tary

Sun.Star Baguio - - Speak Out -

R.A. 9344 (Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice Wel­fare Act of 2006) is the law cov­er­ing the dif­fer­ent stages in­volv­ing chil­dren at risk and chil­dren in conflict with the law from preven­tion to re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and rein­te­gra­tion.

This law, passed un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal Ar­royo, pro­vides un­der Sec­tion 6, thereof that a child fif­teen years of age or un­der at the time of the com­mis­sion of the of­fense shall be ex­empt from crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity, but the child shall be sub­jected to an in­ter­ven­tion pro­gram. This law re­pealed the pre­vi­ous min­i­mum age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity (MACR) pegged at nine years of age (and had been so for more than 70 years un­til it was re­pealed). In in­ter­na­tional law, there is no es­tab­lished MACR but the Gen­eral Com­ment No. 10 is­sued by the Com­mit­tee on the Rights of the Child in 2007 con­cludes that state par­ties to the Con­ven­tion on the Rights of the Child should not set the MACR be­low the age of twelve, in or­der to take into ac­count the emo­tional, mental and in­tel­lec­tual ma­tu­rity of the child.

On June 30, 2016, House Speaker Pan­ta­leon Al­varez filed House Bill no. 2, propos­ing to amend R.A. No. 9344 as amended by R.A. No. 10630, re­vert­ing the min­i­mum age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity to nine years of age. The bill is still pend­ing in Congress. Ap­par­ently, the rea­son be­hind the bill is to pe­nal­ize chil­dren as young as nine years old of their crim­i­nal acts, tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the grav­ity of the of­fense. In R.A. 9344, the grav­ity of the of­fense is not taken into con­sid­er­a­tion, as the ap­proach is non-ad­ver­sar­ial but gears to­wards a holis­tic and restora­tive jus­tice. This means that a 14 year old who kills some­one will not be jailed but will be re­ha­bil­i­tated un­der the Chil­dren in Conflict with the Law re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­gram. Un­der the pro­posed bill, said child will be jailed, since mur­der or homi­cide is con­sid­ered a heinous crime.

The Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines is­sued on Au­gust 24, 2016, a po­si­tion pa­per tak­ing a stand against the de­crease in the MACR of a child. In their pa­per, they posit that sci­en­tific re­search on child and ado­les­cent de­vel­op­ment and ju­ve­nile delin­quency re­veals that the “de­vel­op­men­tal im­ma­tu­rity of young peo­ple mit­i­gates their crim­i­nal cul­pa­bil­ity”. This means that al­though a child can un­der­stand right from wrong, the child is still in­ca­pable of mak­ing re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions based on such knowl­edge, since “sig­nif­i­cant changes in brain anatomy and ac­tiv­ity are still tak­ing place in the pre­frontal re­gions that govern im­pulse con­trol, de­ci­sion-mak­ing, longterm plan­ning, emo­tion reg­u­la­tion, and eval­u­a­tion of risks and re­wards”. That is why teenagers are most prone to en­gag­ing in risky be­hav­ior. More im­por­tantly, the child who is ex­posed to a “crim­i­nal” en­vi­ron­ment will more likely es­tab­lish a crim­i­nal iden­tity, in­creas­ing their risk for phys­i­cal, sex­ual and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse.

Be­fore it was re­pealed, the age of crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity had been at nine years of age for 70 years. Yet, there is no es­tab­lished fact that this de­terred chil­dren from en­gag­ing in crim­i­nal acts. What is es­tab­lished is that chil­dren ex­posed to a crim­i­nal en­vi­ron­ment can in­crease re­cidi­vism. Freda B. Dayog

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