Virlanie Foundation is one with the Child Rights Network (CRN) in its renewed efforts to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. This is in regards to the recent news of Senate President Vicente Tito Sotto filing a bill to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 years old (Read: Tito Sotto files bill lowering age of criminal liability).
Virlanie has always fought for Children’s Rights, be it on the field or in institutional advocacy networks. In 2017, we have officially introduced the Advocacy Program whose role is to become a key player among local children’s rights advocacy groups and the source of reliable information on children’s rights issues. The goal of this department is not only to advocate outside the Foundation, but also to spread and fully integrated overall internal principles, practices, and actions across all Virlanie’s program and staff.
Therefore, last March 13, 2017, all Virlanie staff and volunteers discussed our stand on the value of life and against lowering the age of criminal responsibility.
Read our stand against lowering the age of criminal responsibility:
In recent years, Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) have often appeared as highly discriminated and despised amongst law offenders. Too young to be seen as grown-up adults by the law, various government units are facing challenges on how to deal with the problem on juvenile delinquency. It was in 2006 when this issue became a serious concern of the Philippines as a nation.
Back in 2006, Virlanie Foundation along with two other child-centered NGOs fought for the pull out of children as young as nine (9) years old from the dreadful and overcrowded prisons intended for adults. They challenged the Filipino penal law to abide with international standards as compiled by the UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency and the Art.40 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. These laws promote the integrity and well-being of a child. Thus, they expect “treatment in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth and takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society” (Art. 40, CRC).
Together with UNICEF’s strong effort, the long-due execution of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act was signed and implemented. This law is also known as REPUBLIC ACT (RA) 9344 – an act establishing a comprehensive juvenile justice and welfare system, creating the juvenile justice and welfare council under the department of justice, appropriating funds therefore and for other purposes.
However, due to lack of financial funds and political will from government units, certain loop holes in the law arose in 2013. An amendment was made under the Republic Act 10630 aiming to strengthen the Juvenile Justice System by
(1) recognizing children aged 12-15 years old who have committed “parricide, murder, infanticide, kidnapping and serious illegal detention where the victim is killed or raped, robbery, with homicide or rape, destructive arson, rape, or carnapping where the driver or occupant is killed or raped or offenses under Republic Act. No. 9165 (Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002) punishable by more than 12 years of imprisonment” as neglected;
(2) recognizing children of same age and have committed crimes more than three times as neglected;
(3) imposing “maximum penalty for those who exploit children such as syndicates for the commission of criminal offenses.”
Virlanie, as a Foundation that believes in engaging every Filipino child in “socially useful activities and adopting humanistic orientation towards society and outlook on life” (Riyadh Guidelines, 1990) and in standing up for their rights, has encouraged the different government to establish child-friendly centers that would shelter children and help them develop good moral values and norms. Furthermore, Virlanie recognizes the fact that young people must be given opportunities to take part in the development of the society instead of being mere passive engagers in social media.
While some institutions have been established through the interventions of the DSWD and different NGOs today, the current regime still questions whether these initiatives are enough to keep the youth from committing crimes. In Inquirer’s article dated November 21, 2016, Davao Del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, speaker of the House of Representatives, suggested to lower the minimum age of criminal liability (MACR) from 15 years to 9 years old.
“Their main argument would be a major loop-hole in the actual law and the fact that criminals or even the kids themselves are using the age of criminal responsibility as a tool to escape responsibility,” Alvarez declared.
Evidently, Virlanie Foundation stands against the idea, foreseeing the potential non-respect of the rights of street children and the further stigmatization this will bring.
“May he be behind bars or in the streets, a child stays a child. Not an adult,” acknowledges Dominique Lemay, Founder of Virlanie Foundation.
“He has the right to live, to play and shouldn’t find himself thrown into jail. That’s not his place. How would you react if your own child, nephew, just turning 9, would be imprisoned surrounded by adults regardless of their crimes? It doesn’t feel right, does it? He continues.”
“But obviously, we are not blind. We do realize that numerous criminals and mafia are using the younger ones to commit crimes and other delinquent acts. Those adults aware of the law will be using them knowing no trial or grudge will be held against them…Thus, it is important, today, more than ever, to put activities and engage ourselves in socialization processes to help those children, to create a system of diversion. Establishments and child-friendly places should be settled where the children would be diligently followed by social workers and would be given opportunities to grow away of crime.”.”
You can also read the official statement of CRN on renewed efforts to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility here.