Children in the Philippines could face the death punishment from the age of nine. Source: Flickr
Legal changes allowing nine-year-olds be jailed for crimes was “wrong from every angle”, warned the head of Unicef, the UN children’s agency, in the Philippines.
“If they grow up, spending their teenage years in a prison, they most probably will be damaged for life,” said UN country representative, Lotta Sylwander.
The current age of criminal responsibility is 15. President Rodrigo Duterte and his political allies have been pushing to lower the age limit and restore the death penalty.
Opponents of the changes fear that a nine-year-old could be executed while Duterte has promised to stop drug traffickers using children as drug couriers.
Sylwander said a child was unable to comprehend the consequences of a crime, especially if they were under adult pressure.
“Apart from the fact that it’s against human rights, it’s very unfair to a child, to punish them in such a harsh way as the criminal system would be, for something that they never understood was that serious. By incarcerating children at such a young age, they in fact become well-trained criminals by being brought up in prisons with other criminals,” the UN representative said.
Police data suggests less than 2 per cent of crimes are committed by under-15s.
The UN committee on the rights of the child said 12 was considered “not to be internationally acceptable” and Unicef has argued that alternatives to prisons, such as restorative justice programmes, could reduce offending by up to 70 per cent.
Filipino children are already liable to be arrested and held like adults from the age of nine but they cannot be charged. More than 52,000 children had reportedly been arrested since 1995, Unicef reported, often for minor thefts or sniffing glue and solvents.
Duterte’s overall war on drugs is in crisis after drugs-squad police kidnapped and murdered a South Korean businessman, strangling him to death at the headquarters of the Philippines National Police.
“He [Duterte] was straight to the point: ‘I am ordering you to disband your anti-drug units, all units’,” said Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who attended a briefing at the presidential palace.
Duterte decided that the relatively tiny Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency would take over the war on drugs, with military support.
The 71-year-old president has previously backed the police against accusations of extra-judicial killings and deals with hit men in which more than 7,600 people have died in seven months.