MANILA - The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) opposed Friday fresh calls to lower the age of criminal liability, saying it is an act of violence against children.
"Children in conflict with the law are already victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty and exploitation by adult crime syndicates," UNICEF representative to the Philippines Lotta Sylwander said in a statement.
Lawmakers, she said, should instead focus on strengthening the implementation of the law to address juvenile delinquency.
"There is a lack of evidence and data that children are responsible for the increase in crime rates committed in the Philippines," Sylwander added.
The House Committee on Justice on Monday, Jan. 21, will hold a hearing to repeal Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which exempts children 15 years old and younger from criminal liability.
An amendment to the law in 2013, through RA 10630, states that children aged 12 to 15 who were involved in serious crimes shall be mandatorily placed at the Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center, which is located within youth facilities called “Bahay Pag-asa” (House of Hope).
The proposed measure from the House of Representatives seeks to lower criminal responsibility to 9.
At the upper chamber, Senator Tito Sotto III wants to set the minimum age at 13.
President Rodrigo Duterte had said that he was in favor of repealing the law, saying that discerning teens lose their “sense of accountability.”
Law enforcers, he said, are dealing with a lot crimes committed by minors.
The UNICEF however argued the proposals, saying that a person reaches maturity only at 16 based on scientific studies.
"Proposals to lower the age of criminal responsibility argue that children as young as 9 years old are criminally mature and are already capable of discernment," Sylwander said.
She added, "If this was the case, then why is the legal age to enter marriage, legal contracts and employment in the Philippines at 18 years old?"
What children in conflict with the law, UNICEF said, is a strong support program and access to social services and child-sensitive justice system.