MANILA - The United Nations is "very concerned" with proposals to lower the age of criminal responsibility to nine years old from the current fifteen.
"We’re very concerned and we do get a lot of issues and questions from around the world because the Philippines was held as a good example and everyone was looking at how the implementation of the existing law was progressing," UNICEF representative in the Philippines Lotta Sylwander said Monday.
"Now, it feels that we get expressions, ‘Are you actually walking backwards in the Philippines? Why is that happening?’ We’re trying to present all the facts, the scientific facts, which are global, and also the Philippine facts," she added in the interview with ANC's "Early Edition.
Sylwander said the UN already sent a letter to both chambers of Congress to oppose the proposal but has yet to get a response.
Special Representative to the Secretary General of the UN on Violence Against Children Marta Santos-Pais sent the letter to the House Speaker and to the Senate President, said Sylwander.
In the letter, the UN expert explained in "very scientific terms" why a child is not able to take the proper decisions and what happens to their brains, to their development and the life-long damage being put behind bars does to them, said Sylwander.
Lowering the age of criminal liability was a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte, and with a supermajority in the House led by ally Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, its passage was likely. Another campaign promise, the death penalty, had been passed at the chamber earlier this year.
The House of Representatives is expected to start debates on Alvarez's House Bill 002 when they resume session in May.
"We are very closely [watching this], from the global side, from the Secretary General’s office and from here, both the UNICEF and the United Nations in general here," said Sylwander.
WILL NOT SOLVE CRIMINALITY IN THE PHILIPPINES
Sylwander, citing data from the Philippine National Police, said only 1.7 percent of the crimes in the country are committed by children below the age of 15.
"If we really want to do something about criminality and criminal activity in the Philippines, is lowering the age of criminal responsibility really going to do something about the big bulk of criminality? Probably not at all," she said.
"It will put a huge strain on the justice system and all those individual children who will be put in the justice system," she added.
Sylwander said a global movement now pushes for restorative justice, but the proposed law at the Lower House runs counter to this.
"There’s nothing in the proposed new law that talks about restorative justice; it really talks about putting children into the criminal system just as adults," she said, referring to the draft bill and documents from the Technical Working Group in Congress.
Sylwander also casts doubts on assurances from lawmakers that youth offenders will be separated from adult criminals, noting that prison facilities in the country are "overfull" and there "seems to be no real effort" to improve this.
"How will then there be real efforts to create new prisons or whatever new facilities for very young children who are put into prison?"