Jail is no place for a child

We, member organizations of the Girls Advocacy Alliance and Down to Zero Alliance in the Philippines, are committed to the protection of children.  We envision a world where no child suffers domestic violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, exploitation and dangerous labor. Likewise, children in conflict with the law should undergo quality programs addressing every child´s physical, mental, emotional and psychosocial development enabling them to become productive members of our society.  This, rather than a punitive approach, will create better outcomes for both children and society.

Therefore, we stand firmly opposed to the substitute bill amending Republic Act No. 9344, or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

This bill, if approved, would lower the age of Criminal Accountability from the current fifteen-years-old to nine-years-old (twelve-years-old in Senate version).  Further, it requires that children between the ages of nine- and eighteen-years-old who are convicted of serious crimes be remanded to reform facilities such as Bahay Pag-asa, managed by the Department of Social Welfare.  The bill would require such a facility in each of the Philippines´ 81 provinces and 33 highly urbanized centers. Finally, the bill requires that children who do not show sufficient reform would, at the age of 18, be sent to agricultural camps or training centers until the age of 25.

As for the Bahay Pag-asa facilities, there are currently 63 facilities, many of them holding children in subhuman conditions.

We welcome a national dialogue on how better to address the concerns surrounding children in conflict with the law.  This discussion should be rooted in a thorough understanding of the needs and special circumstances of children. The substitute bill, however, ignores the particular situation of individual children -- maturity level, context, family situation -- and is an attempt to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to what is a complex issue.

We call on our legislators to reject the substitute bill amending Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, or Republic Act 9344.

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