Protect our children, no to lowering of minimum age of criminal responsibility

Protect our children, no to lowering of minimum age of criminal responsibility
Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for kingdom of God belongs to such as these.Mark 10:13

The Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking (PIMAHT) strongly condemns the approval of the bill to lower the age of Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) by the House of Representatives. As an alliance which works for the protection of victims of human trafficking, we also advocate for a safe, peaceful, and nurturing environment for children.

While contrary to common knowledge, children represents a low percentage of the total population in conflict with the law despite many reports that the juvenile crime rate is increasing and that children under 15 are committing crimes under the control of crime groups. Statistics shows that in 2013, a mere 2.4% of crime is committed by children compared to adult and most of these are petty crimes. (Source: Situation Analysis of children in the Philippines, Unicef Philippines, pp.312-324). Poverty and lack of opportunities to the majority of Filipino families in our country are the very same drivers that breed vulnerability to children to be in conflict with the law. They become an easy prey to criminal syndicates, and thus, only exacerbates their situation to be more exposed to more risks and dangers, as their basic needs are being neglected. Data states that 45% of the offenses attributed to children are petty theft, robbery and other offenses against property, while 65% of children offenders come from poor families.

We strongly encourage our government to focus its attention on the promotion of the rights and welfare of children, and address the roots of social problems driving children to commit crimes. Government should deliver programs that cater to children’s needs, creating conditions that will develop and nurture and mold them to be responsible members of our communities. What our children need from duty bearers are support, care, and policies that will protect their rights and that will hone and encourage them to be productive members of our society. To protect their rights, and ensure their safety is our utmost concern. A violent and punitive environment is not the answer.

As Child Rights Advocates, the recent statement by the Office of the President, backing the law that will lower the minimum age to 9 or 12 years old is unacceptable to us. Instead, we demand that the government implements fully the provision of the Juvenile Justice Law and institute measures to strengthen the Filipino families and the network of care, including churches, schools and various stakeholders, for at-risk and vulnerable children among our midst.

We call on our all churches, communities of faith and other children’s welfare organizations to join us in opposing the House Bill No. 002, or the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act, and other acts that hinder our children to be an integral member of our community, fulfilling their God-given potentials to the fullest.

Children are not criminals. This bill, if implemented, would be our greatest sin to children, and to the next generations to come.

Signed:

Bishop Ruperto Santos, D.D.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Bishop Rex R.B Reyes,
National Council Churches in the Philippines

Bishop Noel Pantoja
Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches

Ms. Fe Foronda
Philippine Children’s Ministries Network

Sr. Vivian Fernando, HFB
Talitha Kum-Philippines