Philippines: United Nations experts express concern over torture of children in secret detention facilities and lowering age of criminal responsibility
Geneva, 18 May 2016 (OMCT) – The
UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) urged the Philippines to immediately close
all “secret places” of detention where people, including children, are routinely subject
to torture. It also called for the age of criminal responsibility to be kept at
15 years of age, urging the Government to drop a bill aimed at lowering it.
a group of human
rights experts in charge of assessing
countries’ application of the Convention Against Torture, last Friday announced
its concluding observations with regard to the Philippines’ over the last seven years. It expressed concern
about children deprived of liberty in unofficial detention centres. The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) had
beforehand submitted a report to the UNCAT providing
evidence of the existence of a “secret
facility” run by the Malabon Bayan Police, in Metro Manila, where children – some
of whom had not even committed crimes, or only minor non-violent offenses – had
been electrocuted, heavily beaten, and arbitrarily detained for lengthy periods.
an interview in March 2016, a child who had been held incommunicado and then
tortured during interrogation, described his cell as “totally dark, the size of
a refrigerator and heavily locked with steel bars,” said Carolina Barbara,
coordinator of OMCT’s child rights programme. “What’s more, children and their
families are often afraid of presenting charges and frequently threatened by
During the UNCAT review, which took place from 27
and 28 April 2016, the Filipino Government committed to a full investigation of
the secret places of detention in Malabon city. This news comes in a context in
which the Philippines increasingly wants to consider children as adults: a bill is currently in Congress aims to lower the age of criminal responsibility to nine years of age from
15. The UNCAT also strongly criticized the bill, recommending its immediate
The UNCAT experts also denounced the dangerous
conditions in which children in conflict with the law are kept in official
“holding centers”, such as the Yaka Bata Holding and Manila Youth centres, in
Manila Metro Area. These pose severe, long-lasting physical as well as mental
health hazards, and expert Sapana Pradhan-Malla during the review session
called for their “improvement or closure”.
Human rights compliance in question
under new Filipino Government
Since this UN review, the Philippines has elected a
new President, Rodrigo Duterte, who has indeed made public statements at odds
with UNCAT recommendations, generating concern among human rights activists
about the future compliance of the country with international human rights
commitments, including the UN Convention Against Torture.
Lowering the age of criminal
liability is against international standards and not seen as an effective
measure to reduce criminality by most experts. Worse, it is believed it can
only increase over-crowdedness and the risk of children being tortured.
UNCAT during the session also highlighted the routine impunity in the country,
which counts only one conviction for torture, in spite of a six-year-old
Filipino Government, which became a party to the Convention in 1986, has one
year to report to the UNCAT on actions it will take to address the issues of
pre-trial detention, overcrowding in prisons, torture and ill-treatment and
steps taken to close all “secret places” of detention.
For further information: Carolina Bárbara, OMCT Child Rights Coordinator, email@example.com,+41 228 0949 38. For the pdf version click here: Philippines Press Release-Committee Against Torture.