The Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC) remains steadfast in its position against the lowering of the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) as it defended the human rights of children deprived of liberty as well as the children at risks during a Committee Hearing by the Sub-Committee on Correctional Reforms, Committee of Justice at the House of Representatives on November 16, 2016.
CLRDC Executive Director Rowena Legaspi was invited to be one of the Resource Persons to present its position before the said Committee on why the MACR should not be lowered. Currently, there are six bills pending at the House of Representatives which all seek to lower the MACR, they are HB 02, 505, 935, 1609, 2009 and 3873. These bills argue, among others:
– That there is a dramatic increase in the number of children being involved in criminal syndicates, and the latter continue to use those exempt from criminal liability to perpetuate their crime;
– That in other countries like Europe, USA, the MACR is more lower;
– That the authors want to teach the children to be responsible in their actions;
– That if the above 15 and below 18 acted with discernment, they will be tried as adults
In its position paper presented before the said Committee, CLRDC maintains that lowering the MACR is not the ultimate solution to address the aforesaid bills’ concerns. CLRDC said that “the violations of laws of some minors if indeed they are used by syndicates, are mainly connected to laxity in the social system. If the syndicates, parents or other Adults abuse minors to perpetuate their criminal actions, this can be prevented through improvement in the social welfare system, and the proper implementation of law against child abuse.” CLRDC further states in its position paper that “reducing the MACR in law would be completely contradictory to the main purpose of the child’s best interest. If the goal of the bills is to protect our children, then the call must be to punish severely those who use and take advantage of these minors and break their innocence. The failure of the system to go after the syndicates that use minors reflects weakness of law enforcement in implementing the law”.
CLRDC underscores that “Children in conflict with the law were many times victims of different circumstances before they landed in detentions, and at the detention centers they continue to be victims as they suffer continued deprivation of access to health, education and justice.” “If we put the nine years old above into detention center by passing these bills, then we are perpetuating the sufferings that these children already endured, the State is not helping, it is condemning the child to a life she or he never deserved by the faults of the adults around him or her. If we incarcerate them as early as 9 years old, who are the most vulnerable and defenseless, the State is more than guilty of stealing these children’s future.”
CLRDC recommended to the Committee the full execution of the juvenile justice law instead of lowering the MACR which violates the many constitutionally protected rights of children. CLRDC was joined by Salinlahi, PAYO and Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation (HLAF) in articulating to the Committee its opposition to the MACR bills.
The committee hearing on the MACR will be continued on November 21, 2016. A very reliable source said that the Committee targets the passage of the MACR bills this coming December, along with the death penalty bill. If the death penalty and the lowering of the MACR bills are passed into law, children above 9 years who committed heinous crime punishable by death, are not spared from this harsh punishment.