Youth Protection in the Philippines

By James Jimenez

Who are the youth?

In the Philippines, the term “youth” encompasses individuals from childhood through adolescence, typically defined as those aged 15 to 30 years old. This demographic is considered crucial to the nation’s future, embodying potential, dynamism, and the promise of societal progress. The fact of the matter is, young people represent a significant portion of the general population and about a third of the voting population. This means that they are not only the future leaders of the country, but are also impactful participants in the political and socio-economic fortunes of the country.

In recognition of this, the government and various organizations place significant emphasis on protecting and empowering this group to ensure that they are protected, capacitated, and empowered. Thus, the Philippine Youth Development Plan (PYDP) highlights the government’s strategies to tackle key youth issues such as education, employment and participation in governance via the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) system.

What laws protect the youth?

Unfortunately, given their potential and promise, the youth are also among the most vulnerable sectors of our society. For this reason, there are a whole raft of laws that are designed to safeguard the welfare of the youth.

One of the key statutes in this comprehensive legal and policy framework is the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (R.A. 9344). This law focuses on the protection, rehabilitation, and reintegration of children in conflict with the law, or CICLs. Fairly recently, there have been rumblings among some legislators to amend the law to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility – from 15 years old to as young as nine. They argue that the modern world has spawned a generation of children more in tune with the currents of the world, and therefore are able – at an earlier age – to adequately discern right from wrong. Thankfully, this ill-considered amendment has not gotten enough traction to actually result in a change in the law, and so the protections for children remain intact.

The real question.

We asked “what laws protect the youth?” There are admittedly a lot – from the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 (RA 10627), to the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act (RA 10627) and even the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (RA 9262), but of greater concern than whether or not these laws exist in the first place, is what happens when some future legislature decides to roll back these protections?

The right question to ask, therefore, is how long will these existing protections survive?

This is the existential question that truly lies at the heart of all calls for youth participation in democracy. The short version is this: if old people are allowed to make all the laws, then all the laws will bear the biases and preconceptions of old people. And as we’ve seen with the determined push in Congress to label nine-year olds as criminals, too many old people are too quick to gravitate towards punishment and away from rehabilitation. They would rather throw kids into prisons with hardened criminals, rather than strengthen those institutions that strive to reintegrate CICLs into society. Is that the future we envision for our society? For our children?

Heed the call.

It this isn’t your vision – if this is not the future you dream of for your children – then participate in elections and democracy now.

Do not leave the business of legislation to people who no longer think like the youth. People – whether young or old – whose centers of gravity have shifted away from protecting the young people to punishing them for not being more like their elders; people who are still bound to old ways of thinking, even when those ways are clearly no longer responsive to the needs of the present.

We can do this by voting for those who are youth centric in their thinking. We can do this by fostering the political dreams and futures of young people who are willing to stand toe-to-toe with others in the halls of the various legislatures – from Sanggunians to Congress itself. We can do this by giving the youth a true and equal seat at the table of government.

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