Reducing the age of criminal responsibility: A commentary
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 This law repealed the previous minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) pegged at nine years of age (and had been so for more than 70 years until it was repealed).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