Various sectors gathered Wednesday to oppose the move of the House of Representatives to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR), calling for more responsive policies to address poverty and child offending.
This, after the lower house’s Committee on Justice held a closed-door executive session to discuss the proposed bill to reduce the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine, sparking opposition from numerous NGOs and civic networks.
“Rather than addressing the socio-economic roots of child deliquency, the government instead wants to lower the age of criminal liability,” said Salinlahi Public Information Head Euele Rico Banganay whose civic group initiated UNCHAIN Children (Unity of Child Rights Advocates Against Inhumane Treatment and Neglect of Children), a network composed of multi-stakeholders who are against the proposed legislation.
“Children should not face the punishment meant for adults,” he added during the Pandesal Forum joined by the likes of Gabriela Women’s Party, Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, UP Manila, Child Hope Asia PH, KADAMAY, PREDA Foundation as well as the Office of Senator Win Gatchalian among others, at the Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City.
In Salinlahi’s research, barely 2% of all crimes reported to the Philippine National Police from 2006 to 2012 involved children, 47 percent of which were crimes against property (e.g petty theft, robbery) prompting the groups to stress the importance of solving the crux of child crime- poverty.
“Jailing children, as young as 9 years old, will not address the problem of child offending. Instead, the government should prioritize crafting responsive programs and policies that will address poverty ,” said Salinlahi spokesperson Kharlo Manano.
“We believe that the government should not regard juvenile offenders as criminals, they are victims of poverty and state neglect. The profile of CICL is enough to convince us that these poor children have been condemned miserably in a condition where they need to commit crimes in order to survive,’ Manano stressed, referring to DSWD’s data saying that most children in conflict with the law belong to low-earning families, has stopped schooling and were charged with property-related crimes.
Aside from holding awareness-raising efforts at the ground level, the network will become active in holding events opposing the proposed legislation including protest actions, lobbying with local government units as well as proposing and recommending programs and policies in order to promote children’s rights and welfare.
The attendees from various child rights institutions, women’s advocates, youth organizations, urban poor sector, members of the academe, legislators and faith-based groups, signified their unity and commitment to oppose the lowering of MACR by also signing a manifesto to further formalize the move.
Photos and Text: Peter Paul Duran