(Eagle News) — Amnesty International is urging the Philippine Congress “to reject attempts to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility” as it aired its deep concern at renewed efforts by the Philippine government to lower the minimum age of responsibility from 15 to 12 years old.
The London-based non-governmental organization focused on human rights views current moves in Congress on lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility as “disturbing.”
“Amnesty International calls on the Philippine Congress to reject any proposed law that seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and instead comply with the country’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),” it said in a statement.
“This move is all the more disturbing when seen in the context of the Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’, which has left thousands dead and continues to claim children’s lives,” it said.
While Amnesty International noted that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified the age of 12 as the “absolute minimum internationally acceptable age of criminal responsibility, it categorically urges States not to lower their existing minimum age to 12 if already set at a higher level.”
“Indeed, there is an emerging consensus that the minimum internationally acceptable age of criminal responsibility should be set at 14, and under no circumstances should States reduce the minimum age if current penal law sets it at 14 or higher,” the group’s statement said.
It cited research by international institutions, including the United Nations, which has shown that “structural inequalities and the failure of States to respect, protect and fulfil economic, social and cultural rights such as the rights to education, housing and health can increase children’s vulnerability and their chances of coming into conflict with the law.”
“In this context, States are encouraged to focus resources on the realization of economic, social and cultural rights rather than penalization measures that do not address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion.”
Amnesty International, however, recognized that President Rodrigo Duterte even during his campaign, had vowed to focus on eradicating crime and corruption in the country, and that one campaign promise he made was to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Last week, Duterte said he was “comfortable” to lower the age of criminal liability to 12 years old, stressing that it was the original law before it got amended.
“I’m comfortable with it. As long as they — above 12 below 16, ‘yung indeterminate sentence doon ang papasok lang, okay na ako,” the President noted.
The House of Representatives on Monday, January 28, already approved on third and final reading the controversial bill. The Lower House passed House Bill 8858 by a vote of 146 “yes” votes with 34 “no” votes.
The Senate is already tackling the issue with Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III already making pronouncements that he agreed with lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12.
-Reminder to legislators-
But in its statement, Amnesty International reminded legislators to “ensure that all legislation regarding children is in strict compliance with the country’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
“Lawmakers should ensure that the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 is effectively implemented as it stands, including by establishing more child-caring institutions and sufficiently funding existing ones, as well as working for the reintegration of children in conflict with the law back into society,” it said.