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Treating Children as Criminals Leads Them Towards Negative Life Trajectory

MANILA – Plan International continues to express its concern over the proposed law that seeks to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility in the Philippines. The controversial bills up for debate could have children as young as nine years old jailed and charged for crimes.

At the subcommittee on correctional reforms hearing on November 21st, the second hearing to date, discussions suggested potentially changing the minimum age to 12 years old.

Plan International warns that treating young minors as adult criminals will harm their emotional health and well-being and may lead them towards a negative life trajectory.

“Putting young children in prison severely lessens their chance of a better, safer, and more positive future,” said Ernesto Almocera, Communication and Advocacy Manager of Plan International Philippines.

According to the Council for the Welfare of Children, the majority of children in conflict with the law in the Philippines are between 14 and 17 years of age. They have low educational attainment and their convictions include crimes linked to poverty such as theft.

“We must remember that we are talking about children, not hardened criminals. These are young people who are still developing emotionally and socially, and who are born into family circumstances beyond their control. We must support these children, not turn our backs on them,” said Mr. Almocera.

Further profiling by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council shows that the majority of these children come from families with low socio-economic backgrounds, with separated parents, and experience family or domestic violence.

“Instead of punishing children and putting them in jail, we should address the root causes of juvenile offending and help children rise above their situations. We will not be able to help children if we fail to ignore, recognise, and address the underlying factors that force them to commit crimes in order to survive,” said Mr Almocera.

The age of criminal responsibility in the Philippines begins at 15 years, following landmark legislation – the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 – that created a separate justice system for children based on the principles of restoration and rehabilitation.

Plan International and other NGOs have called on the government to fully implement the Juvenile Justice Law, and also urges the Philippine National Police and proponents of the bills to provide evidence justifying lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

“Proponents of the bills have so far failed to provide facts supporting their case,” said Mr. Almocera, citing statistics that only 2% of reported crimes in the Philippines were committed by children. “Why push to lower the age of criminal responsibility to nine or 12 if there is little-to-no data or evidence that positions children as huge threats to society?” argued Mr. Almocera.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Spokespersons from Plan International are available for comment.

About Plan International Philippines

Working in the Philippines since 1961, Plan International helps children to realize their rights to health care, education, protection, and a high quality of life. Plan International Philippines now works in over 400 villages within 30 municipalities in Masbate, Occidental Mindoro, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar, Western Samar, and Southern Leyte.

About Plan International USA

Plan International USA, part of the Plan International Federation, is a child-centered development organization that believes in the promise and potential of children. For more than 75 years in over 50 developing countries, Plan has been breaking the cycle of child poverty. Everything Plan does – from strengthening health care systems to improving the quality of education, to advocating for increased protection and beyond – is built with, and owned by, the community. The result is a development approach designed to improve the lives of the youngest members of the community for the longest period of time. For more information, please visit https://www.planusa.org.

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