MANILA—The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) opposed Thursday a bill in the Philippines seeking to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
The UNICEF, in a statement, urged lawmakers to improve the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, instead.
"To brand children as criminals removes the responsibility and accountability from adults who have failed them. Children in conflict with the law are victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty; and because they are not able to access a caring, nurturing and protective environment," it said.
Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III filed Senate Bill 2026, which would lower criminal responsibility to 13 years old.
The lawmaker explained that criminal syndicates are abusing the provisions of the JJWA by using minors to commit crimes.
The said law exempts children 15 years old and younger from criminal liability.
Under Sotto's proposal, a child proven to have acted without discernment would be exempt from criminal liability and shall be subject to the appropriate intervention program under the law.
Meanwhile, children between 9 and 12 years old found guilty of committing serious crimes such as parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping, and homicide, shall be deemed neglected children under the Child and Youth Welfare Code.
The UNICEF, citing studies in neurobiology, said adolescents' brain functions reach maturity at about 16 years old.
"A 12-year old child is not yet even a teenager. A 9-year old child has not yet even reached the standard age of puberty. These ages are too young and exposing them to the harshness of the criminal justice system, where even adults are rightly intimidated, is a grave wrongdoing," it said.