European civil society groups join opposition to lower criminal age to 12

European civil society organizations have joined the growing opposition to moves by Philippine Congress to make children as young as 12 years old criminally liable to certain crimes.

In a letter to Senator Francis Pangilinan, the groups implored the lawmakers to refrain from amending the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 and retain the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 15.

“We call on you to ensure that House MACR (minimum age of criminal responsibility) bill does not pass. The reduction of criminal responsibility may punish the kid, but it will only exacerbate and not solve the societal problems you seek to address,” the letter signed by representatives of 16 organizations based in different countries in Europe said.

The House of Representatives earlier approved a bill lowering the criminal responsibility age to 12. The Senate is still deliberating its own version at the committee level.

The groups reminded Congress that as signatory to the United Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Philippines should uphold the country’s commitment to the convention, whose thrust is to make member states “progressively raise the age of criminal responsibility.”

“The MACR bill undermines all efforts to building a child friendly juvenile justice system that supports rehabilitation and reintegration,” they said.

Moreover, as the most neglected group of society, children from marginalised socio-economic backgrounds are vulnerable to physical and psychological abuses when locked away in rehabilitation or detention centres and prisons, especially when incarcerated together with adults, the groups added.

According to the civil society groups, “MACR bill ignores the evidence of what effectively reduces crime among children: diverting them from the criminal justice system, avoiding detention and focusing on measures such as restorative justice.”

“Depriving children of their liberty can lead to long-term and costly psychological and physical damage, whilst overcrowding and poor detention conditions threaten their development, health and well-being,” they said.

“The removal of children from their family and community networks as well as from educational or vocational opportunities at critical and formative periods in their lives can compound social and economic disadvantage and marginalisation. Exposure to criminal influences and violent behaviour whilst in detention is likely to encourage repeat offending,” they added.

The signatories are:

Mary Lou Hardillo-Werning, Babaylan Germany; Danuta Sacher, Acting Director of International Programs, Bread for the World (Germany); Martin J. Wilde, Executive Director, Don Bosco Mondo (Germany; Jakob Wieser, Director, Dreikönigsaktion (Austria); Carsten Montag, Chief Programme Officer, Kindernothilfe e.V. (Germany); Pierantonia Sterlini, President, Mandacarù Onlus (Italian Fair Trade Organisation);

Misereor (Germany); Mirjam Overhoff, Director, philippinenbüro e.V. (Germany); Simon Mertens, chairman of the board, Preda Freundeskreis e. V. (Germany); Monika Schlicher, Director, Stiftung Asienhaus (Germany); Delphine Moralis, Secretary General, Terre des Hommes International Federation; Ulrike Thönniges, Director, Tatort-Straßen der Welt e.V. (Germany);

Dietmar Bär, German actor & founder/ (German actor & founder/ member of Tatort-Straßen der Welt e.V.); Klaus J. Behrendt , member of Tatort-Straßen der Welt e.V.); Joe Bausch, member of Tatort-Straßen der Welt e.V.); Jochen Motte, Executive Secretary Justice, Peace and the Integrity of reation, United Evangelical Mission (Germany).