On the Amendment to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act

The House Bill No.  6052,  titled  "An  Act  Strengthening  the  Juvenile  Justice  System  in  the Philippines,"  was  approved  in  the  House  of  Representatives  of  the  Philippine  Congress. Referring to "youthful offenders" and "children in conflict with the law," the bill seeks to lower the  age  of  criminal  responsibility  from  15  to  12  years  of  age,  provided  that  criminal responsibility attaches only when the minor "acted with discernment."

 

We in the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) are against this amendment and take the stand that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should NOT be lowered from 15 to 12 years old. We call for the strengthening of the juvenile justice system through the  strict  implementation  of  existing  laws  that  prosecute  adults  who  coerce  children  to engage in criminal behavior and protect and rehabilitate children in conflict with the law (CICL) through restorative means.

 

We present the following evidence and implications from psychology research:

 

Scientific  research  on  adolescent  development  and  juvenile  delinquency  provide  evidence  that children  and  adolescents  differ  significantly  from  adults  in  decision-making,  propensity  to engage  in  risky  behavior,  impulse  control,  identity  development,  and  overall  maturity.  The developmental immaturity of juveniles mitigates their criminal culpability.  Although  they may  be  able  to  discern  right  from  wrong  action,  it  is  their  capability  to  act  in  ways consistent with that knowledge that is compromised by several factors at this stage:

 

  1. Deficiencies in Decision-making Capacity

 

  • The adolescent brain is still under development.  Significant changes  in  brain anatomy and  activity are still taking place  in  the  (prefrontal) regions that govern impulse control, decision-making,  long-term  planning,  emotion  regulation,  and  evaluation  of  risks  and rewards. These abilities, which are involved in criminal behavior,  do not fully  form   until young  adulthood,  making  early  and  middle  adolescents  (ages  12-16)  especially vulnerable to risky and reckless behavior.

 

  • The adolescent is psychosocially immature compared to adults.  Because of still developing cognitive abilities and limited life experiences, adolescents are less able and less likely than adults to consider the longer -term consequences of their actions.

 

  • Adolescents  differ  from  adults  in  their  assessment  of  and  attitude  towards  risk.  Compared  to  adults,  adolescents  place  relatively  less  weight  on  risk,  and  give more weight to rewards.  They also have different goals and values than adults.  These may result in youth giving more importance to, for example, peer approval than safe behavior.

 

  1. Heightened Vulnerability to Coercive Circumstances

 

  • As minors, young people lack the freedom that adults have to assert their own decisions and extricate themselves from criminogenic settings. There is local evidence that children are often used and abused by adults to engage in criminal acts.  Youth  are powerless  in such  circumstances  because  they  fear  retribution,  do  not  have  or  are  not  aware  of alternative actions, or look up to or are emotionally attached to the criminal proponents.

 

  • Adolescents are more susceptible to peer influence than are adults.  Because of the desire for approval and belonging at this stage, adolescents’ choices reflect what they believe will merit the approval of their peers. Peers and adults serve as models for behavior that adolescents believe will help them achieve their goals. The fact that  juvenile crimes tend to  take  place  in  groups  or  gangs  points  to  the  significant  role  of  peer  influence  and pressure.

 

  1. The Disadvantaged Environment and Profile of the Filipino Child in Conflict with the Law (CICL)

 

  • The typical CICL is poor, lacking in education, a victim of parental neglect and/or abuse, and lives in a criminogenic environment.  These  clearly  place  the  young  person  at  a disadvantage,  making  deficiencies  in  decision-making  and  vulnerability  to  coercion  all the  more  pronounced.  To place such a young person, already victimized, into the hands of the criminal justice system further curtails his or her future prospects, and pushes them further towards a negative life trajectory.

 

The aforementioned characteristics of youth indicate that they are less capable than adults—even at age 15, but most certainly at age 12—to behave in accordance with what they may discern or know to be right versus wrong action.  Although transitory, these developmental limitations are not under the volitional control of the young person.

 

Moreover, adolescence is still a time of self and identity development, and antisocial behaviors do not reflect “criminal identity” at this stage.  Research  indicates  that  most  youth  abandon antisocial  behavior  at  the  time  that  they  exit  adolescence,  and  that  only  a  minority  persist s  in criminal behavior as a function of pervasive  neurological and environmental risk factors. In fact, exposure  to  the  criminal  justice  system,  where  the  child  will  be  labeled  a  criminal  and where  he  or  she  is  exposed  to  criminal  models,  will  more  likely  establish  the  “criminal identity” of the young person.  Studies have shown that encounters with the adult justice system results in greater subsequent crime, including violent crime, for the juvenile.

 

The  PAP  reiterates  its  position  against  the  lowering  of  the  minimum  age  of  criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years old.  We urge the government and relevant stakeholders to

Implement restorative justice and appropriate interventions for our CICL.  CICL should experience sanctions  in  community  and  family  settings  whenever  possible,  especially  for  first  and nonviolent offenses.  They  should  be  excluded  from  the  adult  criminal  system  and  given  full opportunities  to  develop  into  responsible  adults  who  can  make  meaningful  contributions to society.

 

 

References

 

Adhikain Para sa Karapatang Pambata (2004). Research on the situation of children in conflict with the law in selected Metro Manila cities. Quezon City: Save the Children (UK)-Philippines.

 

Alampay, L.P. (2006). Risk factors and causal processes in juvenile delinquency: Research and implications for prevention. Philippine Journal of Psychology, 39(1),195-228.

 

Alampay, L.P. (2005).  A rights-based framework for the prevention of juvenile delinquency in Philippine communities. Manila: United Nations Children’s Fund.

 

MacArthur  Foundation  Research  Network  on  Adolescent  Development  and  Juvenile  Justice.  http://www.adjj.org/content/index.php

 

Steinberg,  L.,  &  Scott,  E.  (2003). Less guilty by reason of adolescence: Developmental immaturity, diminished responsibility, and the juvenile death penalty.  American Psychologist, 58(12), 1009-1018.

 

Steinberg, L., & Haskins, R. (2008). Keeping adolescents out of prison.  Policy Brief, the Future of Children, Vol. 18 No. 2, 1-7.

 

University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies-Program on Psychosocial Trauma and Human Rights and Consortium for Street Children. (2003). Painted Gray Faces behind Bars and in the Streets, Street Children and the Juvenile Justice System. Quezon City: Author. 

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