By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
Amid renewed calls to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility, an official of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) asserted that lowering such has never resulted in lower crime rates in the Philippines.
DSWD Undersecretary for Protective Operations and Programs Group Mae Fe Ancheta-Templa cited that before the passage of the Republic Act (RA) 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) of 2006, a total of 52,576 children were in detention or under custodial setting.
She added that from 2012 to 2015, the Philippine National Police (PNP) recorded a total of 27,823 cases of child in conflict with the law.
Furthermore, the PNP data showed that from 2002 to 2015, the percentage of offenses committed by children in the total number of crimes recorded is very much negligible, Ancheta-Templa said.
Specifically, the PNP data revealed that the percent distribution of crime committed by adults is higher at 98 percent, while those involving children is only 2 percent.
In terms of seriousness of crimes following Section 20A of RA 9344 as amended, Ancheta-Templa said 8 percent of crimes committed by children involved serious crimes while 92 percent were categorized as “non-serious.”
She also noted that the amendments of the JJWA under RA 10630 in 2013 were compliant to international socio-legal standards and backed by studies in order to respect both the rights of the child offender/s and the offended party.
“Child-friendly sentencing is offered by the JJWA to take seriously the nature of offense thereby making the child responsible and accountable,” she said.
Under the law, there are proper procedures in handling cases of children who are below the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) or 15 years old and below, those who are above 15 years old but below 18 years old, and those aged below the MACR who have allegedly committed serious crimes or are repeat offenders.
Instead of supporting the lowering of the criminal age of responsibility of children, Ancheta-Templa proposed the need to strengthen the implementation of JJWA across all social units since child justice programs require financial, logistical, and social service support.
“Structures of support such as those indicated in the Early Years Act (EYA) as an enhancement of the early childhood care and development programs and services are important in the prevention of anti-social behavior in young people,” she said.
In addition, she said that parents and communities have the vital role to hone children as responsible citizens.
“Parents are the first educators in teaching children to discern and learn acceptable ways of thinking and doing. Parenting needs scientific ways of raising up young ones to be respectful of culture yet doing no harm regardless of sex identity,” she explained.
Ancheta-Templa also noted that local government units, as first responders to cases of children in conflict with the law, need to hire and ensure proper training to social workers to enable them to handle cases and appropriately carry out interventions to address the bad behavior of children.