Issue of February 3, 2019

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‘Lowering age of criminal liability a form of abuse’
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

Changing the existing law to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 12 or nine years old is a form of abuse, according to a college department, as it supported the call to strengthen the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Law.

The University of the Philippines Diliman Department of Psychology is encouraging those who want to support better changes for the children to take action by thinking about the issue and stay informed, getting involved, and taking a stand for the children.

In a statement, UP cited four reasons for its stand on the controversial bill seeking to lower the age of criminal responsibility that is backed by Malacañang.

First, the college said the move completely disregards the vulnerability and difficult circumstances of children in conflict with the law.

“Research has proven that the root causes of crime are poverty, lack of supervision and care from a responsible adult, and coercion by syndicates. Criminalizing children between 12 and 15 years old means we ignore these factors that push them to commit crimes and shift the responsibility – that should be ours – on children,” UP said.

Lowering the MACR also increases the likelihood of poverty, criminality, and mental health issues in the future.

The UP Psychology department said children in conflict with the law may also be victims of abuse and neglect at home, school, and in their neighborhood, as based on observation, in poorly funded and badly run institutions they can experience further abuse and little or no opportunities for holistic development.

Children can also face stigma and discrimination when they exit the institution they were placed in, which can all lead to worse, not better, lives after institutionalization.

Third, the move turns children into convenient scapegoats, the school said, citing data from the Philippine National Police that show that less than two percent of crimes are committed by children and majority of these are petty crimes.

“Going after children below 15 years of age will not really make our communities and lives better because it only focuses on a small group committing mostly small crimes, taking away our attention from the much larger group of adults who commit more crimes, including the use of children to commit the crime. It only makes some people think that the government is doing something about crime but at the cost of children’s lives and wellbeing,” UP said.

Lowering the MACR also denies the children’s capacity to change.

“At these ages, children are going through a lot of changes – physical, emotional, and mental. This makes them more vulnerable to adult coercion. However, this malleability is also their strength, as they have great potential for change and growth under the right circumstances with supportive families and communities and they can flourish in settings where they are respected as human beings but not in institutions where they are labeled as criminals.”

Other groups, including a doctors’ association, have expressed their opposition to lowering the MACR, saying among others, that it breaks the core values of Filipinos.

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