It has been a year since Republic Act 9344 or the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006” was signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and its provisions have only just started to make ripples in the public consciousness.
Controversial provisions of RA 9344
Some provisions of RA 9344 have become controversial, most especially the provision on criminal exemption of persons below fifteen years of age. Anyone who has taught in public high schools will tell you how naive and shortsighted this particular provision is. Several weeks ago, a high school kid from Laguna was beaten to death by a schoolmate, but because that schoolmate is below 15, the police had no choice but to release him. In fairness to the sponsors of this law (Sen Kiko Pangilinan and the UNICEF), RA 9344 provides for what are known as "diversion" and intervention" programs to be implemented by the DSWD.
Please read Dan Mariano’s article “Problems juvenile justice law failed to anticipate” which discusses a potential and very possible scenario whereby criminal syndicates could purposely use minors for their illegal activities. (The article is also available at http://www.cyc-net.org/features/viewpoints/c-problemslaw.html) First minors are exploited and turned into criminal activities because of their poverty. Now, they will be exploited precisely because of their minority and their exemption from criminal prosecution.
Curfew ordinances against minors is a status offense prohibited by RA 9344
Numerous barangays, towns and cities have passed ordinances imposing curfew for minors. Under Section 57 of RA 9344, curfew ordinances against minors are classified as “status offenses” and are therefore illegal. The section states:
Any conduct not considered as an offense or not penalized if committed by an adult shall not be considered an offense and shall not be punished if committed by a child. Below are some of the essential provisions of the said law.Sec. 4, paragraph (r) of RA 9344 includes curfew violations under the term “status offense”.
Other essential provisions of RA 9344
Section 6.- Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility
A child fifteen (15) years of age or under at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability. However, the child shall be subjected to an intervention program pursuant to Section 20 of this Act.Section 20.- Children Below the Age of Criminal Responsibility
A child above fifteen (15) years but below eighteen (18) years of age shall likewise be exempt from criminal liability and be subjected to an intervention program, unless he/she acted with discernment, in which case, such child shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings in accordance with this Act.
The exemption from criminal liability herein established does not include exemption from civil liability, which shall be enforced in accordance with existing laws.
If it has been determined that the child taken into custody is fifteen (15) years old or below, the authority which shall have an initial contact with the child has the duty to immediately release the child to the custody of his/her parents or guardian, or in the absence thereof, the child’s nearest relative. Said authority shall give notice to the local social welfare and development officer who will determine the appropriate programs in consultation with the child and the person having custody over the child. If the parents, guardians or nearest relatives cannot be located, or if they refuse to take custody, the child may be released to any of the following: a duly registered nongovernmental or religious organization, a barangay official or a member of the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC), a local social welfare and development officer, or when and where appropriate, the DSWD. If the child referred to herein has been found by the Local Social Welfare and development Office to be abandoned, neglected or abused by his parents, or in the event that the parents will not comply with the prevention program, the proper petition for involuntary commitment shall be filed by the DSWD or the Local Social Welfare and Development Office pursuant to Presidential Decree No. 603, otherwise known as “The Child and Youth Welfare Code.”Section 58. - Offenses Not Applicable to Children
Persons below eighteen (18) years of age shall be exempt from prosecution for the crime of vagrancy and prostitution under Section 202 of the Revised Penal Code, of mendicancy under Presidential Decree No. 1563, and sniffing of rugby under Presidential Decree No.1619, such prosecution being inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Provided, That said persons shall undergo appropriate counseling and treatment program.