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Friday, September 22, 2023

Does age matter?

Last week, Senate President Vicente Sotto III, filed a bill seeking to lower the minimum age of
criminal responsibility from the current 15 to only 13 years.

Sotto justified his proposal in view of the alarming rise of crimes committed by minors,
aggravated by deliberate attempts of syndicates to use minors in the perpetration of crimes.

The Sotto bill is a departure from an earlier bill filed by administration allies in the House of
Representatives, led by then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, which proposed a much lower cut-off
of only 9 years.

55 per cent of respondents in a Pulse Asia survey rejected the 9 year threshold. The same
survey, however, indicated less objection to a 12 year cut-off.

Notably, both the Sotto and Alvarez bills echo one of two of President Duterte’s anti-crime
legislative priorities – that of lowering the age of criminal responsibility. The other Duterte
priority is the restoration of the death penalty.

The legal threshold ( alternatively referred to as “age of accountability”, “age of responsibility”,
“age of criminal responsibility” and “age of liability”) is based on the assumption that juveniles,
up to a certain age fixed by law, still do not fully understand their actions. The threshold varies
in different jurisdictions.

In the United States, the age varies between states. For non-federal offenses, South Carolina
allows prosecution of six year olds while in 35 states, the minimum age is 7. For federal
offenses, however, 11 years is the cut-off.

Here are the age of accountability thresholds currently observed in other countries:

Singapore, India and Pakistan – 7
England, Australia and North Ireland – 10
Canada, Netherlands and Scotland – 12
Japan and Italy – 14
Sweden, Finland and Norway – 15

Some countries refuse to set a fixed minimum age, but leave discretion to judges to rule on
whether the juvenile defendant understands that what was being done was wrong.
Sotto’s proposal would put us in the same league as France which has adopted 13 as threshold.

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