How young is too young?

Community News & Features Jan 25, 2019 at 4:44 pm

Minimum age of criminal around the worldBy Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

A proposed law making its way through the Philippine Lower House would lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (known as MACR) from 15 years old to as young as nine.

The bill seeks to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 that currently retains the MACR at 15 years old, but allows children as young as 12 to be detained in youth care facilities.

It would allow children between nine and 14 years old who commit “serious crimes” to be locked up.

“Serious crimes” include offences such as murder, abduction, car theft and drug-related offences.

A similar bill filed at the Senate seeks to set the minimum age to 13.

Committee chairman, Congressman Salvador Leachon, said the bill seeks to protect children from being used by criminal gangs to commit crimes. “We are not putting these children in jail but in reform institutions to correct their ways and bring them back into the community,” said the legislator.

For Malacañang, 9-year-old children are already capable of discernment due to the modern technology they use. “For me, 9 is fine. Considering the modern technology, nine is like the equivalent of 12, 15 years old. They have discernment already,” said Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo.

These plans are backed by President Rodrigo Duterte has since elected, has been opposed to the Juvenile Justice Law and perceived it as the cause of the rising crimes in the country.

This is contrary to the recommended minimum age of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child or UNCRC, wherein the Philippines is one of the signatories.

What does the UN say?

The UN stated in a 2007 general comment, “Children’s rights in juvenile justice states that ‘a minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of 12 years is considered by the Committee not to be internationally acceptable.’”

The committee said 12 should be the absolute minimum age for a child to be charged in the judicial system, but it also urged nations to continue to increase it to the “commendable high level of age 14 or 16.”

The committee also agreed the death penalty should not be imposed on anyone under the age of 18. This includes not imposing the death penalty on anyone who commits a crime during childhood but is 18 or older during the trial and sentencing.

What is the common MACR around the world?

There is no global consensus regarding the youngest age at which a child can be deemed to be criminally responsible. In the United States, the minimum age of criminal responsibility for federal crimes is 11. But in 33 states, children of any age can theoretically be convicted and sentenced at the state level. In India, the minimum age is 7, compared with 16 in Timor-Leste.

What does science say?

The determination of discernment, according to the passed measure citing jurisprudence, is “the ability of a child to understand the moral and psychological components of criminal responsibility and the consequences of the wrongful act; and whether a child can be held responsible for essentially antisocial behavior.”

Scientific studies, however, showed that discernment on decisions and actions—which is apart from the ability to distinguish right and wrong—does not develop until adolescent years. The human brain continues to develop until the age of twenty-one years, and to mature as late as twenty-five years old.

The Child Rights International Network also explained that age is “arbitrary” in determining a person’s capacity to discern.

“Capacity is therefore not just an innate state; it depends on external circumstances which can encourage or inhibit a child’s autonomy,” it said.


Salinlahi, a children’s rights advocacy group, protested outside the House of Representatives on Jan. 21 against the “ruthless move by legislators.”

The group said the dismal situation of Filipino children pushes them into anti-social activities and criminality.

“These are the immediate issues that the Duterte government have neglected to resolve for nearly three years,” Salinlahi secretary-general Eule Rico Bonganay said.

“The victims are punished while this useless administration gets away with crimes against the Filipino people, including abandonment of its responsibility to look after children’s rights and welfare.”