In relatively polarized society like the Philippines where half the population thrives on subsistence farming and fishing, the borderline between adulthood and childhood is very thin, if visible at all. Contrary to my experience in Hong Kong where I lived between 2005 and 2013—a good 25% of my entire life—defining ‘adulthood’ and ‘childhood’ in stricter Filipino context may take further inclusive studies that involves the poorest of the population.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution defines ‘adult’ as someone who is at least 18 years of age. Thus only when he is 18 he is qualified to vote or free to participate in any lawful transaction without parental consent. This could be interpreted: 18-years old and above are mature and capable of making sound decisions in life.

... the borderline between adulthood and childhood is very thin, if visible at all...
… the borderline between adulthood and childhood is very thin, if visible at all… (picture not my own.)

Interestingly, I know of some folks who cook and go to school on their own. The difference? They are actually kids between the ages 8 and 12! Is this also true in your country?

The parents are either working in the farm, in a distant city, or as contract workers in another country like this student. The kids live on their own, bathe, wash their clothes and practically decide for themselves.

The oldest child often assume fatherhood or motherhood or some leadership role in a household—a responsibility supposedly reserved for older and mature individuals. Therefore adulthood in many, but especially among poor, families do not fall into the universally accepted definition of ‘adulthood.’

In fact adult life in the Philippines starts early. Kids, many are product of failed marriages, seemed to have ‘matured’ faster than their contemporaries in many parts of the world. Perhaps that’s due to household responsibilities and family problems they’ve morphed into adults albeit too early.

Particularly I think incidence rate for teenage pregnancy, already among the highest globally, contributed to early maturity of our minors and worsening of their economic condition. I was wondering if we can use teenage parenthood as yardstick. If so I think Filipino teen mothers (and fathers, too) could be evaluated on the same standard. Or perhaps even more.

Additionally we now impose criminal punishment to Filipino minors. Jail terms are meted to child offenders of the law, generally under the “age of majority” according to Black’s Law Dictionary. Few years back, Philippine law prohibits actual filing of criminal charges against offenders below 17 years except such heinous crimes namely murder, homicide and rape. And instead of a regular jail, child offenders are camped separately. With offenders their age range in rehabilitation centers, they are released after completing community service instructions and other requirements such as personal and spiritual coaching set forth by the presiding judge.

Fortune turned sour when the law was amended last year and lowering the age of criminal liability from 17 to 13 years. This is especially dangerous because we have thousands of kids who call the streets home. Kids that can not grasp criminal justice are more susceptible to encountering numerous injustices.

For instance street kids may not have realized robbery and burglary are morally wrong and punishable by law. At face value they have committed a crime. Therefore, the 13-year-old kid will be accordingly penalized in the same category of adults based on latest amendment. Should not kids deserve reconstructive and personal and spiritual rehabilitation rather than jail time alongside hardened criminals in the penitentiary, who might further the damage kids’ already severed to their well-being?

It could be inevitable certain juvenile group may face suspended jail terms (until they turn 18) for committing heinous crimes such as murder, rape, homicide or kidnapping. But I have full reservation as regard to the manner we treat them in this spectrum.

The Philippines is a polarized, complicated, hierarchical and problematic society. It is a society 60 percent are in miserable economic condition and unimaginable poverty. It is a society undergoing massive economic and political development in recent years but a hugely gapped development only the elitist few thrive dominating wheels of fortune and playing lord over the fate of the remaining 98%. We have a justice system except it is in the brink of failing. It is a society where bureaucratic systems particularly justice is challenging. Consider this: Majority believes it only favors the rich, influential and personalities with political clout. Perceptions of injustice are not only heard but seen everywhere.

Some people feel our penal system is defective and that it needs overhauling. Other sectors of the society view the penalty too severe and unjust. And there are still few people who dare say the entire nation, through popular assembly declare a total failure of the system in this part of the world.

Exactly, what is the best definition of adulthood in light of criminal liability? Where does it begin? Where does it end? 🙂

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