* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The #ChildrenNotCriminals campaign is calling for the Philippines government to focus on prevention, education, and rehabilitation for child offenders
Following a proposal from the Government of the Philippines to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9, Plan International and partners have launched the campaign #ChildrenNotCriminals.
Children as young as 9 could be jailed under a proposed new law in the Philippines.
In response, the #ChildrenNotCriminals campaign has been launched by Plan International and partners to advocate for the government to focus on prevention, education, and rehabilitation for child offenders. It also warns that punishing children as adults will have long-lasting impacts on their lives.
Although children will be most affected, national data shows that almost 98 percent of reported crimes in the country are committed by adults. In addition, according to the Council of Welfare for children, the majority of children in conflict with the law in the Philippines are between 14 and 17.
CHILD OFFENDERS NEED SUPPORT
“We are talking about children, not hardened criminals. They are still developing emotionally and socially, and are born into family circumstances beyond their control. We must support these children, not turn our backs on them,” said Ernesto Almocera, Plan International Philippines Communications and Advocacy Manager.
We will not be able to help children if we fail to address the underlying factors that force them to commit crimes
Further profiling by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council shows that the majority of these children come from families with poor socio-economic backgrounds and have often experienced domestic violence.
“Instead of putting them in jail, we should address the root causes of juvenile offending. We will not be able to help children if we fail to address the underlying factors that force them to commit crimes in order to survive,” said Almocera.
The current age of criminal responsibility in the Philippines is 15, following landmark legislation that created a separate justice system for children based on the principles of restoration and rehabilitation.
WEAK IMPLEMENTATION OF LAW
Through the #ChildrenNotCriminals campaign, Plan International and partners are urging the Government of the Philippines to strengthen this legislation and maintain the current minimum age of criminal responsibility.
As of September 2016, only 35 of the 114 youth care facilities mandated by law are operational. This could result in more children being put in detention facilities with adult criminals. “The problem is not age but the weak implementation of the law,” says Almocera.
The campaign also urges proponents of the bill to provide evidence justifying lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility. “Why lower the age of criminal responsibility to 9 or 12 if there is little evidence that children are threats to society?” says Almocera.