KALITAWHAN: Lowering MACR back to 9 will do more harm than protection

A statement on Lowering the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility

KALITAWHAN Network is in disbelief and outraged that some lawmakers are considering lowering the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) to 9-years old.  We believe that this is in direct contravention of the Philippine’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and will have devastating impacts for Filipino children.

Where children come in contact with the law, this is normally a very clear sign that the support systems for children are not working effectively.   The vast majority of children in contact with the law come from extremely marginalized communities where they are not able to access the food, shelter, education, health care or social services that they need.  Their involvement in criminal activities is often a consequence of this extreme deprivation. Any efforts to assist these children should focus on addressing these deficiencies rather than penalizing them and their families.

Children between 9 and 15 years old, especially those who have not had a safe, secure and protective upbringing, are unable to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions.   They are still able to be rehabilitated and should be given every opportunity, with the appropriate support, to learn from their actions and not be penalized for them for life.  Involving such children in the criminal justice system will likely have life-long negative impact on them and instead of ending criminality, immerse them in a life that exposes them to criminals and criminal behavior.

The weaknesses within the justice system in the Philippines further put children at risk.  Already there are persistent and regular reports by children that they are tortured and maltreated by police and government officials while in custody.  Detention centers are severely overcrowded and under resourced.  The disposition of cases is extremely slow and there are insufficient appropriately trained public attorneys and social workers to ensure children are adequately protected within the criminal justice system.  Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will significantly increase the population of children going through this already severely under-resourced and inadequately monitored system.

Instead of lowering the age of criminal responsibility, we call on lawmakers to fully implement the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, including by providing sufficient funding to provide appropriate alternative community-based services for children at risk and children in contact with the law.  We call on the justice systems to aggressively pursue adults who knowingly engage children in criminal activity and ensure they are appropriately dealt with.  Most importantly, we call on the government to effectively fulfill children’s rights so that children have sufficient food, shelter, education, health care and support to significantly reduce the risk that they become involved in criminal activity.

KALITAWHAN is a network of children’s rights organizations who has decades of experience working with Filipino children in contact with the law.  In our work we have seen so many cases of children, when being given the support they need, being able to turn their lives around, that we fundamentally believe that children can be effectively rehabilitated and that a punitive approach does not work.