A proposed law currently moving through the Philippine Congress, supported by President Rodrigo Duterte, would potentially make minors as young as nine criminally liable for their actions.
Salvador Panelo, a representative for Duterte, said current law allows adults to put children up to crimes “because they know the children will be freed.” So under the proposed new law, President Duterte seeks to “protect the children” by dissuading criminals from using them as drug mules.
Duterte has consistently claimed existing law hampers efforts by law enforcement to act against minors who work on behalf of drug gangs.
Nonetheless, the measure has drawn sharp condemnation from opposition leaders and human rights groups. Some have called it a “stark mockery of the field of child development.” Others have also spoken out, saying the government should focus more on targeting high-level criminals and traffickers, rather than set its sights on junior offenders.
Philippine jails are also ranked amongst some of the most overcrowded in the world, a result of Duterte’s ongoing crackdown against the illicit drug trade. Partly as a result, the financially struggling government has been unable to set up the mandated number of juvenile justice law centers for minors.
The Philippines is a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, whereby incarceration of a minor is deemed “a measure of last resort.” The measure is waiting on approval by the full House.