The novelist James Baldwin once said Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.“
This quote shows that children tend to mirror or imitate what they see in their environment or what leaves an impression upon them, regardless of whether it is right or wrong.
Then what if the child grew in a harsh and poor environment and the only role model of the child is a person who lives and breathes to do crime for their daily survival. Should the child, taught by his role model, be held criminally liable for the acts or trade he learned and applied in his life while growing up?
This week the topic about criminal liability of children arose from a new bill seeking to lower the age requirement when a child can be held criminally liable for his/her acts.
Under the current Philippine laws a child who is more than 15 but less than 18 yrs old may incur criminal liability, but this would only apply if the child acted with discernment or the child committed an act knowing that it is wrong. If this happened would your child automatically be imprisoned?
No. Our Philippine laws or R.A. 9344 provides several safeguards and privileges for children to prevent this scenario. to mention a few:
First, if the child did not act with discernment, the child will not incur criminal liability but would be required to take part in an intervention program which are activities designed to discuss issues that caused the child to commit an offense and may include counseling, skills training, education, and other activities that will enhance his/her psychological, emotional and psycho-social well-being.
Second, if the child acted with discernment he/she would also be required to take part in a diversion program which is different from the first because in this scenario the child will incur criminal liability and the purpose of the program is to rehabilitate and to avoid undergoing formal court proceedings.
Third, if the child refuses to cooperate or participate with the rehabilitation or the child committed the offense when he was under 18 years of age, the court has no choice but to resort to a court proceedings, however instead of pronouncing conviction, the court will automatically suspend the serving of sentence of the child even if the child is already eighteen years (18) of age or more at the time of the promulgation.
Fourth, another privilege of the child is that, if he/she is 15 years of age or under the child will be exempt from criminal liability regardless of whether the child acted with discernment or not, but will be subjected to an intervention program.
Fifth, unlike an adult, a child when detained or arrested is not placed in prison, but instead released into the custody of his parents or guardian by recognizance or bail or placed in the custody of a youth rehabilitation center, while the case is pending in court.
Sixth, when a child is convicted of a crime, he/she is not sent to jail but instead sent to serve his/her sentence in a Penal institution, Agricultural Camps and other Training Facilities. Supervised and controlled by the BUCOR, in coordination with the DSWD.
Now, this new bill submitted to the congress, is seeking to lower the age from 15 to 12 years old. In my opinion, the only difference would be lessening the scope of children being exempted from criminal liability. Hence, it begs the question on whether the new bill would solve the current problem of children being used and taught to commit crime? or Would lowering the age be beneficial or harmful to the rights of the child? or is it still the same person but only wearing a different dress?
In the current form of the new bill a lot of issues may still change and be resolved in favor of the children and the community. But for now, the status quo should be retained until further research or deliberations is done to determine on what is the proper solution to resolve this problem.