The Senate has yet to pass its version of the bill, so the government isn’t about to lower anytime soon the age of criminal responsibility to nine years, as approved by the House of Representatives.
Even several senators objecting to the House measure, however, have expressed openness to lowering the age threshold from the current 15 to 12 or 11. So the threshold is likely to be amended.
A look at several countries could put this in perspective. The threshold age is 10 in Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Switzerland and South Africa. It’s 7 in India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Singapore and Thailand for certain cases. In Greece and Indonesia, it’s eight. In the UK, there’s a range of 8 to 10. The threshold is 12 in Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Turkey. It’s 13 in France; 14 in Austria, Germany, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan and Vietnam. In the United States, 33 states have set no minimum age for criminal responsibility; for federal crimes, it’s 11.
President Duterte has often lambasted the principal proponent of the Juvenile Justice Act for the current age threshold, which he said has worsened criminality and has been exploited by crime gangs that use children for their activities. Congressmen have stressed that the measure they have approved will not include imprisonment for juvenile offenders. It will also hold parents accountable to a certain degree for their children’s activities.
Law enforcers support the measure; human rights groups are up in arms. They will likely have to settle for a compromise. In case the measure is approved, the government must prepare to make it work by providing sufficient facilities for detaining and rehabilitating juvenile offenders. The country has lacked such facilities for a long time.
If the age of criminal responsibility is going to be lowered, the state must not lose sight of the fact that youths, while being held accountable for their acts, can still be rehabilitated and turned into responsible citizens. People deserve a second chance. This is true especially of juvenile offenders.