Does the Philippines Need a Law Criminalizing 9-year Old Children?

A House Committee of the Philippine Congress recently approved a bill that would lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old. Children 9 to 15 years old who have committed crimes punishable by 12 or more years of imprisonment are to be placed not in jails but in an Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center. These crimes include parricide, infanticide, murder, kidnapping, rape, destructive arson and offenses under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act. With this bill, a nine-year old child caught in possession of a dangerous drug will now be labeled as a criminal. Yes, this is how stupid the bill is. Yet, it was approved almost unanimously by the committee.

In an article published by Reuters two years ago, it was already noted that lowering the age of criminal liability when it comes to dangerous drugs is not warranted according to the government's own data:  "Statistics from the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the government’s top anti-narcotics body, appear to contradict the Duterte camp’s claim that there is a large number of young children deeply involved in the drug trade. There were 24,000 minors among the 800,000 drug users and dealers who had registered with the authorities by November 30, according to police statistics. But less than two percent of those minors, or about 400 children, were delivering or selling drugs. Only 12 percent, or 2,815, were aged 15 or younger. Most of the 24,000 minors were listed as drug users."

Above copied from Reuters

With regard to other crimes, data from an urban location in the Philippines likewise does not bring any urgency to lowering the age for criminal liability. Lapu-Lapu City in Central Philippines is home to about half a million people. In the years 2011-2018, the city has witnessed around 600 instances of juvenile delinquency, which is about 75 instances per year. Lapu-Lapu city, like any other urban area, sees at least 3000 crimes per year. The percentage of crimes commiteed by young offenders in Lapu-Lapu City, about 2.5 percent, is in line with the estimates for the entire country. What is worth noting is the percentage of 9-11 year olds in these crimes.

Above copied from
Child in Conflict with Law

Furthermore, a super majority of the offenses committed by juveniles are either theft or dangerous drug use. In fact, in the years 2011-2018, with the exception of violations under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, only rape appears at 3 percent, no parricide, no infanticide, no murder, no kidnapping, and no destructive arson.

The main obligation of any legislative body is to write laws that help society address challenges or problems. Clearly, there is no need for a law that will criminalize a nine-year old child. Furthermore, even if delinquencies are on the rise, one must first address the underlying factors, and not jump into punitive actions right away. Research enumerates a list of risk factors associated with juvenile delinquency.

Above copied from
Development and Psychopathology

In the Philippines, given that the most prevalent offense committed by children is theft, one is likely to be correct that poverty is an important factor. With this in mind, it becomes so clear that an Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center is not the answer.