Age of Criminal Liability Across Countries

How exactly does the Philippine age of criminal liability compare with other countries?

President Duterte wants Congress to reduce the age of criminal liability (ACL) from the current 15 years to reduce children’s involvement in crime. The ACL was originally at 12 until Sen. Pangilinan sponsored the law increasing it to 15. The President believes the higher ACL provides an incentive for children to go against the law, or for criminal syndicates to use them in illegal activities.

The Senate hearing to change the ACL led by Sen. Gordon quickly spiraled into bitter recriminations between those advocating for the retention of 15 years in the pretext of protecting children, and those wanting a lower age of criminal liability. Traditional mainstream and social media quickly erupted into a cacophony of emotive opinions with very little empirical backing. 

How exactly does the Philippine ACL compare with other countries? I did this analysis quickly using Wikipedia data which themselves are culled from international databases. Out of the 73 countries for which data are available, here’s a breakdown of ACL by age in years:
7 – 6 including India and Singapore
8 – 3 including Indonesia
9 – 2 
10 – 7 including Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Switzerland
11 – 1, the US (for federal crimes)
12 – 14 including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, and Turkey
13 – 2 (France and Algeria)
14 – 23 including China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Spain
15 – 7 including all Scandinavian countries and the Philippines
16 – 5 including Argentina and Portugal
17 – None
18 – 3 countries (all Latin American)

Our ASEAN neighbors are quite harsh, with low ACLs (Singapore at 7, Indonesia at 8, Malaysia at 10). Majority of the countries (53 percent of total) have ACLs between 12 and 14 years. The Philippines is on the more liberal side at 15 along with 6 other countries, mostly Scandinavian. The Philippines is the only middle-income country in its group.

From this international comparison alone, lowering the Philippine ACL to 12 years does not seem unduly harsh. Of course, there are other important contextual factors to consider, but this is a small effort to provide empirical backing to a highly contentious issue.

About the Author
Mr. Oscar F. Picazo is a retired specialist in health systems, health economics, and social policy. He has worked in 24 countries for the World Bank, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and as an independent consultant. He returned to the Philippines in 2009 and became a senior research consultant for the Philippine Institute of Development Studies.
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