Manila, Jan 23 (IANS) A move, backed by the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years continued to roil the country on Wednesday.
Duterte though claims it would deter criminal groups from exploiting children for serious crimes — a common practice in the country, although activists have condemned it as a violation of children’s rights, Efe news reported.
“The Philippine government is one step closer to prosecuting young children as adults, a key plank in Duterte’s abuse-ridden anti-crime campaign,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia Researcher Carlos Conde said in a statement late on Tuesday.
Despite the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, specifically saying that the age of criminal liability, should be under no circumstances be reduced to below 14 years, a Congressional Committee here on Monday approved the Bill, which the Senate was likely to soon ratify.
“This would no doubt worsen the plight of Filipino children caught up in the justice system,” the statement said. “Children in the Philippines have already been subjected to the extreme violence of Duterte’s “drug war”, with the police and government agents killing dozens during anti-drug operations as suspected drug users or for being pawns of drug dealers.
“The proposed law will not only stigmatise children even more — it turns them into scapegoats in the government’s abusive campaign,” it added.
According to lawmakers, who have supported the Bill, it would protect children from criminals who try to exploit them, but critics warn that the new law would confine them to juvenile centres for up to 12 years.
The UN rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard has warned against the move, calling it highly dangerous and fatal for Filipino children.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo has called Callamard’s interference in Philippine domestic affairs shameful and added that the Bill would punish adults, who exploit children for criminal activities.
He said statistics showed an increase in crimes committed by children and the new law is intended to protect them.
Unicef Philippines and Save the Children have also opposed the Bill saying that there was not enough evidence to prove that children were behind the increase in crime rates.