November is Children’s Month in the Philippines. But children’s rights have just hit a new low in the country: Congress is set to consider a bill that would lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years to 9.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June this year after vowing to crack down on criminals, has previously accused children of being involved in drug crime. And the fact that Duterte’s allies in Congress filed this problematic bill less than a week after the start of his presidency shows that his administration considers this a priority. The bill is just one part of Duterte’s bloody “war on drugs” in which nearly 5,000 people – mainly alleged drug users and dealers, including several children – have been killed by police and unidentified gunmen.
If Congress passes this bill, children as young as 9-years-old could be prosecuted and imprisoned. This is a direct attack on children’s rights.
The internationally accepted age of criminal responsibility is 12 years – well above what the bill proposes. Additionally, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Philippines has ratified, the arrest, detention, or imprisonment of children should only ever be used as a last resort; instead, rehabilitation should be offered wherever possible.
The bill also fails to spell out the rights of children who come into conflict with the law – for example, that they are entitled to have access to a lawyer, to be treated humanely and in an age-appropriate way, and that they will be protected from violence.
Even more ominously, this bill was proposed at the same time as another bill that would reintroduce the death penalty. It’s unclear, for now, if lawmakers would ever apply the death penalty to children. Would a country like the Philippines – which has championed many child rights issues in the past – really sentence a 9-year-old child to death? In this current climate, it’s hard to say for sure.
The measure’s sponsors in Congress should immediately withdraw this abusive bill, and remember that it is their job to protect the rights of Filipino children.