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Minimum age for criminal liability

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25 January 2017

 Memo to         :           The University Community   

 Subject         :           Minimum age for criminal liability

Today, 25 January 2017, the House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Correctional Reforms held a closed-door meeting to discuss the bills which seek to lower the minimum age for criminal liability from 15 years old to a mere nine years old. Subsequently, the sub-committee decided to convene a technical working group to deliberate on the issue further.

The possibility of holding a nine-year old criminally liable finds its roots in the Revised Penal Code which was passed in 1930. Congress is contemplating returning to an outdated standard set almost 90 years ago.

Such a retreat would ignore decades worth of research in child and adolescent development, psychology, neurobiology and the social sciences.

You don’t even have to be a neuroscientist to know that “children are not little adults.” Children and adolescent brains, particularly the areas dealing with impulse control, decision-making and long-term planning, are still in the process of formation. Alongside the neurological changes is the development of a child’s conscience, which is also constantly growing.

Given that a child’s development, both physically and emotionally, is still in flux, it would be foolish to hold children to the same standard as adults. Placing children in the same facilities as adults (as it was under the old law), subverts whatever hope we have for reform and rehabilitation.

Fortunately, current Philippine law takes pains to focus on the rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law instead of incarcerating them. Even when adolescents are jailed they are required to be held in separate facilities from adult offenders. The current state of the law reflects a progressive understanding of child and adolescent development. It balances the needs of justice alongside the equally pressing need to provide an opportunity for a child to develop and grow to become a productive member of society.

The law does not need to be changed. Let us spend more energy and resources on getting children educated, raised in homes of love and safety, capable of entering the workforce in adulthood. Let us invest ourselves instead in providing all Filipino children with what they need to flourish and succeed.

The University does not support lowering the minimum age of criminal liability. As an institution tasked in the formation of young people, as an institution that takes care of students as young as six years old, we vehemently oppose such a move to criminalize children. The Ateneo de Manila will be more than glad to work with our legislators in sharing our knowledge based on the research and work that we do with children.

We remember Christ’s affection for the little ones and we take to heart his admonition to the grown-ups: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

Let us take our children to school. Let us accompany them to God. Let us not bring them to jail.




Jose Ramon T Villarin SJ



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