Last Friday, November 21, an audience of mostly high-school students had an opportunity to talk with the executive director of Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, Atty. Tricia Clare Oco, about the liability of children in conflict with law.
The forum, organized by Good Neighbors International Philippines and UP Euro-Filipino Understanding and Relations Organization, featured a fun game at the beginning, where Atty. Oco put the students’ self-awareness into test and debunked myths many people believe about children.
When asked if a child should be held responsible for a crime, one student said that in child development, a certain age must be reached for one to fully grasp and understand a situation.
Atty. Oco agrees.
In the Philippines, the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) is 15, as stipulated in RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. According to the law, a child over 15 and below 18 still has no criminal responsibility unless discernment, or the ability to decide between right and wrong, is proven. Otherwise, the law provides rehabilitation and other child-sensitive approaches.
According to Atty. Oco, RA 9344 was founded in the principle of restorative justice, where justice is more about healing than punishment. Under this law, the consequences are civil liability, intervention and diversion programs, institutional commitments, and in some cases, being charged in court.
Before RA 9344 was enacted in 2006, the MACR was nine. Atty. Oco said that children as young as nine get arrested for petty crimes, and they were the most vulnerable to abuse and diseases in detention.
During the forum, Atty. Oco showed pictures of children as young as six behind bars in the early 1990s. Weak and malnourished, the children have succumbed to depression and other kinds of physical and mental illnesses. They also lived in constant fear of bullying by prison guards and inmates.
It took a CNN documentary about these children to cause an outcry in the international community.
“We’re not treating the children right by doing this,” Atty. Oco said.
On a global scale, the average MACR is 13 years old, while the lowest is six. The highest, meanwhile, is 18.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, a body that oversees the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, has recommended that the MACR should be no lower than 12. (END/ With reports from Judea Alonzo)
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