Where were you when you were nine years old?

Posted on: Jan 22, 2019

By Clarence M. Batan

As a childhood and youth Filipino sociologist, if I will be given the chance to speak my academic voice before congress and senate hearings about the bill amending Republic Act 10630 lowering the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to nine years old in our country, I will start by asking our honorable congress persons and senators, “Where were you when you were nine years old?

I am relatively sure that this question will bring back lovely childhood memories like being in school and those fresh experiences of the many firsts – friendships, defeats, and early victories.  Majority of our lawmakers am quite sure, grew-up loved, protected, and ridiculously sheltered from the fangs and bites of life. Such protection was extended until they were all assured of formal education and places of power. Their child and youth-hoods were as sweet as the romantic telenovelas with life scripts that made sure they grew up well against our problematic socio-political and economic backdrop.

Simply, our lawmakers and President Digong seem to forget or possibly took for granted the fact that they were privileged “growing-up”.

Amidst all the discussion about the “age of criminality”, less emphasis is given to the sociological view of “growing-up” as a social process. That growing-up is not merely defined by “age” but more importantly, by the socio-historical, economic and political conditions shaping the lives of children and youth.

This is the reason why different cultures vary in the ways children and youth are treated along public policy spaces. “Age” as an indicator setting limits and/or privileges has always been used as easy conduit for social control. But for developing societies like the Philippines, should our focus be about targeting a specific age sector such as children as young as nine to showcase control over crimes and disorder? What is it to gain from this law and policy?

Or the better question to ask may be, “Why are some Filipino children growing-up absurd and conflicted at this early age?”

I argue that “age” is not the true issue here. The real issue is larger than age. The issue that truly baffled me is how lawmakers seem to think like nine-year-old children – childish and carefree, unable to decipher what is right from wrong, no vision of the future, simply seeing life as a game. This may be viewed as the historic moment when congress and senate became a big playground for lawmakers who failed to grow-up well.

As of now, most of our senators are demonstrating a mature conviction of resisting this nine-year-old travesty. May be the upcoming May 2019 elections push them to act as grown-ups? May be these senators are truly mature?

Or maybe, there is a future after all, for all nine-year-old Filipino children to grow up in a society where quality life, peace, justice, human rights, ecological order, and sustainable future are in sight?

Growing-up is a social process. I hope this process will reach the congress, senate, and Malacañang.

Clarence M. Batan, PhD, (cmbatan@ust.edu.ph ) is a youth sociologist, professor at the University of Santo Tomas. He has been studying the Filipino children and youth over the past two decades. He now leads The National Catechetical Study 2021, a CBCP – ECCCE commissioned research.

*Photo “Quiapo & Child” by Melvin Anore.

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