UNICEF: Lowering criminal liability age harms kids’ well-being
The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has warned against efforts to lower the minimum age of criminal liability from the current 15 years old to nine years old, saying it will have detrimental effects on minors.
UNICEF said reducing the age of criminal liability, which was the second house bill filed in the 17th Congress under the new administration, “goes against the best interests of the child and threatens the well-being of the most vulnerable children.”
“An effective juvenile justice system puts the rights and welfare of the child at its heart. It seeks to understand how a child develops and tackles the underlying reasons why they commit crimes. It recognizes the detrimental effects of incarceration on children,” UNICEF said in a statement on Monday.
Citing studies in neurobiology, UNICEF noted that the brain function of adolescents reach maturity only at around 16 years old, adding that children exposed to violence and those from dysfunctional families “experience toxic stress which damages the brain’s architecture.”
“Putting children in jail has long-lasting damaging effects on their cognitive, psychosocial and neurological health; harming their overall development. It further stigmatizes them as criminals and creates an environment that triggers repeat offense, often extending to adulthood,” the statement read.
“Children, especially the most marginalized and at risk, must be treated with a sense of dignity and self-worth. It is a treatment that takes into account the child’s age and promotes the child’s reintegration, including his or her assumption of a constructive role in society. Philippine society must work together to create an environment where the youth will acquire non-criminal attitudes,” it added.
UNICEF urged the Philippine government to come up with comprehensive juvenile justice policy instead of proposing measures “that fail to address the root cause of the problem.”
“If children who have been exploited by criminal syndicates are penalized instead of the adults who had abused them, we fail to uphold the rights and well-being of children. If we fail to understand the underlying reasons why they commit crimes, we fail children,” the organization said.
Saying that children were being used as accomplices in crimes, newly installed House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro filed House Bill 002 titled “Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Acts,” seeking to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 which set the minimum age of criminal liability at 15./rga
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