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MANILA, Feb 1 (Mabuhay) — A bill allowing the jailing of child offenders as young as 12-years old is near to becoming a law.

The bill known as “Strengthening the Juvenile Justice System in the Philippines” has been passed on third reading in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and is scheduled to be taken up by the bicameral conference committee.

House Bill 6052 seeks to amend Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12, to address the rising incidence of crimes by young offenders. Proponents of the measure said lowering the age of criminal responsibility would deter children from taking part in organized crime.

Several lawmakers and government agencies, led by the Department of Justice and the Commission on Human Rights, staunchly oppose the bill, saying it would only jail more children without rehabilitating them.

They said the conditions in the country’s jails are not conducive to reforming children in conflict with the law for reintegration with society.

Under the bill, a child offender who is 12 or younger at the time a crime is committed will be exempt from criminal liability but will be placed in a government intervention program.

Children between 12 to 15 years will also be exempt from liability unless they acted with discernment in the commission of a crime.

However, for offenses such as murder, parricide, homicide, kidnapping, rape, robbery, drug trafficking and other offenses punishable by more than 12 years in jail, the child will be presumed to have acted with discernment and will be considered a youthful offender to be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Child and Youth Welfare Code.

If  found guilty, the child’s sentence will be suspended and he or she either committed to a reformatory institution or to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development or another duly licensed agency.

If the child fails to comply with the conditions of custody, he or she will be returned to the committing court for the imposition of the appropriate penalty for the crime committed on turning 18.

The measure also calls for the imposition of stiffer penalties for those who take advantage of children to carry out criminal activities.

The bill also seeks the transfer of supervision and control of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council from the Department of Justice to the DSWD and defines the responsibility of parents in the supervision of their children.

It also provides assistance to victims of offenses committed by children.

Elected to the House contingent to bicameral conference committee were Representatives Marlyn Primicias-Agabas of Pangasinan, Mel Senen Sarmiento of Western Samar, Pablo Garcia of Cebu, Susan Yap of Tarlac, and Mercedes Alvarez of Negros Occidental. (MNS)