Are juvenile offenders really victims?

Are juvenile offenders really victims?

When does protecting our children become too much when it comes to their accountability in committing a crime? Is there really an “appropriate age” for punishment to be imposed on a child? Is it really the right time to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in the Philippines?

In a report from Unicef, there have been over 50,000 reported cases of children in conflict with the law. More than half of which are  considered minor offenses.

At present, Unicef is advocating the release of juvenile delinquents from city and municipal jails and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) is also opposing the lowering of MACR in the Philippines. One of Unicef’s case in point is that 80% of these offenders will only commit a crime once in their lifetime, however, there are some cases where juvenile crimes have already become their way of living.

In a recent report from ABS-CBN, 10 juveniles ransacked a house in Pilar Village in Las Pinas this weekend. They took every item they can, even kitchen items and sold them to a junk shop. They were reported by a concerned citizen and each one of the offenders got caught by the police. It was later found that the group have been arrested several times and have been going around the village looking for houses to rob. The children were then turned over to DSWD. However, the institution said that they will only be detained for one week.  This is only one reported case of a juvenile crime that may not seem “innocent” to some as it has been a serious concern for the people in the village.

Photo Credit: ABS-CBN News

A group of juvenile delinquents caught in Manila Photo Credit: ABS-CBN News

Now the question is, are our laws too lenient to these juvenile offenders? Last year, President Benigno Aquino III approved the Republic Act 10630 amends the Juvenile Justice System and Welfare Act of 2006. The law did not change the minimum age of criminal responsibility, however, one of its projects is the Bahay Pag-Asa which will house juvenile delinquents under minimum age for a period of time (one week) and will be returned to their families. Will a week be enough to teach them a lesson?

In our era, where juvenile crimes are increasing and becoming more serious, it may be difficult to judge how our government should impose punishment on these juvenile offenders. While most people think children are innocent and are only “victims” of circumstances, they still are accountable for their actions. How much is too much of a punishment? How young is too young to be held responsible for one’s actions?

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