‘Lower age of criminal liability doesn’t equate lower crimes’

Oct. 05, 2018

Department of Social Welfare and Development Undersectary Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa (Photo from DSWD Protective Operations – Usec. Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa Facebook page)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Lowering the minimum age of criminal liability to 13 years old does not guarantee a decline in the volume of crimes involving young Filipino children, a social worker and a government official working in the Department of Social Welfare and Development said on Monday.

Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa, undersectary for Protective Operations and Programs, said that DSWD has issued in 2016 its clear position that the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) remains 15 years old as promulgated in 2006 under Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act or RA 9344.

“The lowering of the MACR has never resulted in lower crime rates based on the Philippine experience and same is true in other countries. In fact, before the passage of RA 9344, a total of 52,576 children were in detention or under custodial setting,” Templa told the Inquirer in a Facebook interview on Monday.

In 2012-2015, the Philippine National Police recorded a total of 27,823 incidents of children in conflict with the law (CICL) cases. In this figure, 49 percent committed theft, physical injuries at 22% and robbery at 9 percent.

Other crimes include acts of lasciviousness, murder, grave threat, malicious mischief, among others. Meanwhile, a total of 7,986 incident of children at risk (CAR) cases were recorded from 2012 to 2015, according to Templa, citing the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council report.

She added that 94 percent of the offense committed is violation of city and municipal ordinances, 5 percent is vagrancy and the remaining 1 percent is violation of anti-substance abuse-related cases under Presidential Decree 1619.

“PNP data shows that since 2002 to 2015, the percentage of offenses committed by children in the total number of crimes recorded is very much negligible. Specifically, the PNP data reveals that percent distribution of crime committed by adults is higher at 98 percent while children is at 2 percent,” Templa stressed.

Templa’s statement came in the heels of Senate President Vicente Sotto III’s proposal to lower the criminal responsibility from the current 15 to 13 years old.

Taking cue from President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2016 campaign to amend RA 9344 to lower the age of criminal liability, Sotto filed Senate Bill 2026 on September 24, saying that the minimum age in the country was too high when compared to international standards.

RA 9344 exempts children 15 years old and below from criminal liability which Sotto argued that has been abused by criminal groups by way of using minor Filipino children to commit petty crimes.

But Templa argued that the prevention of juvenile delinquency in the country requires the intervention of the government, saying that when poverty incidence is high like the Philippine situation, families are in dire need of government support.

“Prevention of juvenile delinquency requires heavy state intervention than tinkering on the age of criminal responsibility, she said.

Instead of adopting Sotto’s proposal, the so-called “structures of support” such as those indicated in the Early Years Act (EYA) as an enhancement of the early childhood care and development programs and services are important in prevention of anti-social behavior in young people.

“Talking to children at an early stage of life plays critical in child development towards building the self of each child. How we view children and who they are in our society counts in the way we promulgate laws and conceptualize programs,” she said.

Among these were organizing activities outlined in the JJWA to constitute comprehensive local child justice intervention program require financial and logistical support so that social service workforce becomes more dynamic in their functions and tasks.

Parenting programs, Templa said, form part of any intervention if only to increase efforts at reducing juvenile delinquency if not eliminate violence against children.

“Parents are the first educators in teaching children to discern and learn acceptable ways of thinking and doing. Parenting needs scientific ways of raising up young ones respectful of culture yet doing no harm regardless of sex identity. Poor families are challenged and their handles in the growing up of their children need scrutiny and supervision,” she said.

Also, Templa underscored that the government workforce has to come in with theoretical and practical handles in place at the communities.

For instance, children who were found to have infringed the law are bound to undergo assessment by social workers in collaboration with psychologists and other health professionals, for further review by the proper court according to the Rules on Juvenile Justice issued by the Supreme Court.

“If local government units fail to hire social workers, assessment of CICL is lacking, thereby intervention is not appropriately carried out. Repeat offenders may go unattended to. Child-friendly sentencing is offered by the JJWA to take seriously the nature of offence thereby making the child responsible and accountable,” she said.

“Respect both for the offender and offended party’s rights is paramount even as the safety and security of the community and society as well takes center stage. These elements are already enshrined in the current law so that we need not think of lowering the age,” she added.

Templa said the Philippines has arrived at a leap in pursuing the Convention on the Rights of the Child by enacting laws for and on child protection. “Lest we forget, JJWA is just a reiteration of the Philippine Constitution, Family Courts Act, Child Protection Act under RA 7610 and many more on child care.” (davaotoday.com)

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