Amending the Juvenile Justice Law

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n 2006, the Philippines passed into law the Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Act (RA 9344) which raised the age of exemption from criminal liability from nine to 15 years. Thus, criminal offenders aged 15 years and below became automatically exempted from being tried and imprisoned for crimes they committed. The law also provides that youth offenders above 15 but below 18 may also be exempted from criminal liability if they can be shown to have acted without discernment. Discernment refers to the ability of a child to distinguish what is wrong from what is right. The particular provision in the Revised Penal Code which RA 9344 amended placed the exemption from criminal responsibility at the age of nine years and below. Children aged below 15 but above nine were exempted only if proven to have acted without discretion.

Since 2006, or for six years now, statistics have shown that crimes involving children below 18 have steadily increased. Criminal syndicates are reported to have been actively recruiting minors in the drug trade, hold-up and akyat bahay robberies and other more serious crimes. What could have gone wrong? The age of exemption from criminal responsibility was raised from nine years to 15 in response to an international clamor back then for the Philippines to adhere to the protocol prescribed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. Video clips of teenagers in jail, together with adult criminals in our over-crowded prisons, were shown on international television. Their subhuman conditions and the abuse they suffered in jail embarrassed our country and put pressure on our legislators to amend the old law. The Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Act of 2006 was therefore enacted, backed by the best intentions. It meant to veer away from the punitive character of our criminal justice system embodied in the Revised Penal Code and to adopt a restorative justice approach to managing youth offenders. It hoped to reintegrate the young offenders...
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