Should 9-year-olds be charged for crimes? Two congressmen think so

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Two congressmen have proposed to lower the juvenile age for crime - the age at which children can be charged as criminals.

Presumptive House Speaker and Davao del Norte Representative Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Representative Fredenil Castro have filed a house bill to lower the age at which children can be charged as criminals. The juvenile age for crime used to be 9 but was revised to 15 around 10 years ago.

Republic Act (RA) Number 9344, the Juvenile Delinquency Act of 2006 states that children 15 to 18 years old may be criminally liable if they acted with discernment. Children younger than 15 at the time the crime was committed shall only be subjected to an intervention program. It does not exempt the children from civil liability.

According to Atty. Glenn Tuazon, civil liability means a person should pay for damages, but it does necessarily lead to jail time. On the other hand, criminal liability may lead to imprisonment, payment of fines, and/or censure, depending on the criminal law violated.

The 2 congressmen proposed to revise this so that children between 9 to 18 years old may be held criminally liable if they acted with discernment. According to Alvarez, the change is aimed at criminal syndicates who use younger children to commit crimes such as drug trafficking to avoid charges.

One lawyer-mom disagrees

One concerned mom of 4, Atty. Patty Sison-Arroyo, does not agree with their proposal. She published an open letter on Rappler asking the 2 congressmen to re-think their proposal.

She asks them, "Congressmen Alvarez and Castro, look at your 9-year-old son or daughter or nephew or niece. Will you let them be pried away from your tight embrace? Can you stand the look of horror in their eyes as they are separated from their sheltered world? Can you bear hearing their cries as they clutch prison bars with their tiny hands? Will you be able to sleep knowing that they are wide-awake shaken by the nightmare of a prison cell or an institution?"

On the next page, find out what she hopes their answer will be and the other ways minors who commit crimes can be handled.

She continues by challenging them to consider not only their children but the children of others, especially poor families.

"Please tell us that your answer is no. And please tell us that your answer is no even if that child is someone else's; even if that child's eyes have seen horrors far beyond his or her years; even if that child's innocent cries are drowned out by curses; even if that child's hands are calloused and soiled. On its surface, your bill does not appear to discriminate between rich and poor, but once enacted into law, it will result in oppressing mostly, if not only, the poor."

As for the argument that only those who acted with discernment will be held liable, she counters, "Science has already established that a child’s brain is not yet fully developed. This means that organically, a child is incapable of discernment."

Finding other options

Sison-Arroyo admits that she does not know the correct answer, but recommends learning from successful organizations.

"There are organizations, such as Akay Foundation and Tuloy sa Don Bosco, to name a few, who have had successes in keeping children-at-risk from offending and restoring children who have lost their way. Why not learn from them? Let’s begin the difficult task of raising our country’s children with love and mercy as the starting point rather than punishment."

The bill comes as part of President Duterte's efforts against drugs and crime. He already mentioned wanting to lower the minimum age of criminal liability before winning the elections. Back in February, he and his running mate Alan Peter Cayetano announced that this would be part of their campaign against crime but they mentioned the age of 12, not 9.

Other efforts to curb crime that involve minors include Oplan RODY which is named after the president but is also an acronym for Rid the streets Of Drinkers and Youth. As early as May, many cities around the country started rounding up minors who were violating the 10pm curfew. Duterte announced that the parents of these unescorted minors would be arrested.

READ: 5 Duterte promises Pinoy parents should be aware of

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