Debates about the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) has been a contentious issue among some sectors of society that finally both the House and the Senate seemed to have agreed to amend the existing law lowering it from 15 to 12 years old.
Under the amended law, a child aged 12 to 18 would be sent to an intervention center called the Bahay Pag-Asa if he or she commits the crimes of rape, murder or violation of the Dangerous Drugs Act.
The reason why some sectors, including the ranking members of the Catholic Church and the Child Rights group, decry the lowering further of the age where a child can be prosecuted within the country’s justice system is because they think and believe that these kids are still young and innocent when caught committing the aforementioned crimes.
What this presupposes is that a 12-year-old kid still lacks the discernment to understand the moral and psychological components of criminal responsibility and the consequences of the wrongful act committed.
Scientific studies, on the other hand, has shown that discernment on decisions and actions—which is apart from the ability to distinguish right and wrong—does not develop until adolescent years.
I cannot agree more with the ideal truth, but the reality however is that in countries where poverty is overwhelming there is not really that much difference in the thinking, language and deeds of the 12 and 15-year-old kids in the streets. Mark difference can only be seen in their size.
Thus, to me, I am more hopeful of a transformation happening in their lives when these kids are brought to the Bahay Pag-asa once they find themselves in conflict with the law. With competent administrators/psychologists in place to care and teach them values and guide them to become better persons, there is no doubt these kids will come out more better than when given just a slap on their hands and entrusted back to their parents who am sure won’t give much a hoot about their future.
It is along this frame of thought that I disagree with the appeal made by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) to Congress to re-consider the amendment declaring that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility poses ‘greater harm’ and is therefore anathema to a ‘civilized society’ like ours.
The truth is that the younger we teach and inculcate in the kid’s mind values, the sooner they can have sharpened discernment about the legality of their decisions and actions.