One of the many issues reignited by the rise of the new administration in the Philippines is the need to address crimes committed by the youth. The law currently sets the age of criminal responsibility at fifteen. Any child younger who commits a crime is not penalized but subject to rehabilitation. Consequently, drug syndicates are using children as couriers knowing that, even if such children were caught, no penalty will be imposed.
On a similar note, youths below fifteen have been caught in crimes like rape, snatching and public fights. Laughably, there was an incident when one of them was caught and presented a birth certificate as evidence of minority and a basis to claim exemption from criminal liability.
The spirit of the law exempting the youth from criminal liability hinges on the presumption that the youth are not mature enough to have developed a sense of discretion, or the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and the ability to comprehend the consequences of their actions. But who would believe that a youth lacks discretion when, upon being caught in the act, has the nerve to present evidence and an argument to defend themselves?
Criminal responsibility should not be based on age but the ability to understand that one’s actions are wrong, and with such understanding, commits the act anyway.
Criminal responsibility should also be based on the freedom to commit the crime knowing it is wrong. Anyone reading this article was a child once, and armed with the knowledge that it is not always easy to disobey what an adult instructs. How do you make a child understand that stealing is wrong, if they go home to parents who nurture the belief that they have to steal if they want to eat? How do you make a child understand that drugs destroy the future, if they are compelled to deliver the same by an adult who has a gun pointed to their head?
Bottom line: there can be no hard and fast rules to determine criminal responsibility. Some people are intelligent criminals at the age of fourteen, some forty year old imbeciles don’t know exposing themselves to passers by qualifies as a lascivious act punishable by law.