The enactment in 2006 of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (also known as Republic Act 9344) was a progressive step towards a more restorative and child-oriented juvenile justice system. It is in consonance with the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child (UN CRC) when promoting the child´s reintegration and constructive role in society.
The old and stigmatizing terminologies as “youthful offender” was changed in accordance with international laws and guidelines to “child in conflict with law”(CICL) to avoid labeling – which only contributes to the development of a consistent pattern of undesirable behavior.
RA 9344 acknowledges the fact that most of the CICL have no proof of age by presuming minority until otherwise proven.
The Act says that children 15 years of age and under are exempt from criminal liability and those above 15 (plus one day) and below 18 years of age are exempt unless they act with discernment -which is defined as the mental capacity to understand the difference between right and wrong and its consequences. A CICL who is 15 years or younger may be held civilly liable and has to undergo an intervention program, same as children that are above 15 years and below 18 years and acted without discernment. Children above 15 and below 18 years old who have committed a crime – with discernment – punishable with not more than 12 years of imprisonment shall undergo diversion. Detention should only be considered as a last resort and only for the shortest appropriate period. It should always be in youth detention homes.
If a child is under 18 years old during the time of commission and found guilty of the crime the judgments will not be pronouncedyet and the sentence will be suspended – but not without limits.
RA 9344 decriminalizes offences, which discriminates only against a child as curfew violations, truancy and parental disobedience and exempts children from crimes of vagrancy, prostitution, mendicancy and sniffing rugby.
The implementation of the law relies in many aspects on the local government units. They also are mandated to formulate a Comprehensive Juvenile Intervention Program.
To be in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which the Republic of the Philippines has acceded to by signature and ratification, the principles of “the best interest of the child” (Art 3), “non-discrimination” (Art 2), the “right to life and maximum survival and development” (Art 6) and “respect for the child´s evolving capacities” (Art 5) have to be followed when setting the age of criminal liability.
Similarly, Rule 4 of the Beijing Rules by the Committee on the Rights of the Child urges that the absolute minimum age should be 12 years and to further increase it to a higher age level and not to lower it. The Committee argues that there should be a close relationship between the responsibility for criminal behavior and social rights as marital status and civil majority. It also recommends not setting a lower level for serious offences than for other crimes.
RA 9344 leads to the conclusion that it is considerable compliant with the CRC if implemented correctly.