Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has pushed anew for the immediate passage into law of her Senate Bill (SB) No. 195 which imposes stiff penalty and hefty fines against criminal syndicates and parents who exploit children in their nefarious activities.
De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, said she hopes her colleagues in the Senate would take a serious look at her proposed measure as a way of better protecting children from criminal exploitation.
“Lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old cannot be an effective response to fight rising criminality. Our children are not the criminals here but victims of abuses and exploitation. They don’t belong in jail,” she said.
“I urge my colleagues to look at the Anti-Criminal Exploitation of Children Act which is one of the first bills I filed meant to ensure that criminal syndicates and abusive parents, not our children, are held accountable under our law,” she added.
On her first month as a senator, De Lima filed SB 195, also referred to as the Anti-Criminal Exploitation of Children Act, which defines criminal exploitation of children and imposes higher penalties for all crimes involving them.
“Children are among the marginalized and most vulnerable in society. They must be protected from predators. These include parents and criminals who take advantage of their vulnerability,” she said.
Under SB 195, children are made victims when criminals – in any capacity or extent – involve them in the commission of offenses or obtaining of gain from a crime either as participants and/or tools to commit crimes.
This bill seeks to impose stiff penalties to include imprisonment for criminal syndicates and individuals who engage, promote, facilitate or induce a child in illegal activities. It also prescribes a no-arrest policy in all cases involving children.
Under her measure, a child who is 15 years old or under during the time the offense was committed is exempt from criminal liability. A child above 15 years old but below 18 years old is also exempt from criminal liability but can be subject to state intervention.
“Minors should be guided, not jailed. They do not possess the same level of discernment that adults have, making them defenseless to influences that place their lives and future at risk,” the former justice secretary said in her bill’s explanatory note.
“It is our duty to protect and take care of the psychological and physical well-being of our children. Imprisonment of children violates their human right to development,” she added. The De Lima measure also seeks to task the Commission on Human Rights as the Ombudsman for Children to promote and protect the rights of children, especially against criminal exploitation by organized criminal groups and abusive parents.