Duterte under fire over plan to lock up children as young as 9
International children’s charity UNICEF has slammed a law proposed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that would allow his government to jail children as young as 9 — something the organization called “wrong from every angle.”
Duterte’s plan to widen the number caught in his bloody and violent war on drugs has been in the works since he was sworn in as president in June. At the same time, a bill proposing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years old was introduced into the Philippine Congress. The legislation claims to prevent “the pampering of youthful offenders who commit crimes knowing they can get away with it.”
UNICEF’s country representative Lotta Sylwander condemned the proposed law, saying children as young as 9 cannot always fully grasp what they are doing. “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,” Sylwander told the Guardian.
Fredenil Castro, who co-authored the legislation, told Reuters that the bill was justified because the children are “in cahoots with drug users, with drug pushers, and others who are related to the drug trade.”
The bill is due to be passed into law within six months and Duterte’s allies say his support in Congress will ensure the bill is green-lit. Speaking in December, the Philippines president said: “You can ask any policeman or anyone connected with the law enforcement: We produce a generation of criminals.”
Sylwander counters this accusation by saying that locking up children so early will only set them up for a life of crime. “By incarcerating children at such a young age, they in fact become well-trained criminals by being brought up in prisons with other criminals.”
National police statistics show that under 2 percent of crimes in the Philippines are carried out by children under the age of 15, while the U.N. said setting the age of criminal responsibility below 12 is considered “not to be internationally acceptable.”
Since assuming power, Duterte’s violent crackdown on drug dealers and users has racked up a body count of at least 6,000 people — including some children.
Last month Duterte announced he was suspending the war on drugs, in a bid to eradicate corrupt police from the force. However, he added that his initiative is scheduled to resume, and will carry on until his term in office finishes in 2022.
Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS