Save the Children defends rights of child offenders;

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For Immediate Release: October 15, 2011

Save the Children defends rights of child offenders;
Urges govt to implement and not suspend the Juvenile Justice Law

Save the Children, an international organization advocating for children’s rights, reacts to Senator Francis Escudero’s plan to suspend the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act (Republic Act 9344) and opposes proposals by four representatives and one senator to lower the age at which children can be made criminally liable—from 15, the age set by the law, to 9 or 11. These lawmakers believe that children at this age can already discern what is right or wrong and, thus, have full knowledge of the consequences of their actions. So far, nine bills have been filed in Congress proposing various changes in the law.

Save the Children, however, believes otherwise.

“Reducing the age of criminal responsibility and putting children in jail will not solve the root causes of why children commit offences. This will neither change children’s negative behaviour nor convert them into law-abiding citizens. These actions push them into situations of further discrimination, abuse and eventually into more anti-social behavior,” explained Steve Ashby, Save the Children Country Director.

“Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is a big step backwards in fulfilling the rights of children in the Philippines,” added Ashby. The Philippines signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which also upholds the rights of children in contact with the law.

A life of poverty and violence

The recent events reported in the news about children called “Batang Hamog”, show young boys unlocking car doors of slow-moving vehicles in EDSA and robbing passengers of their belongings. What these images do not show is the grave situation of children in urban poor areas, which drive them to commit crimes.

According to Teresita Silva, President/Executive Director of Child Hope Asia Philippines, a non-government organization working for the cause of street children, there is no established government program that teaches children and their parents children’s rights and responsibilities and life’s values and skills. “The age of knowing what is right from wrong, or the age of discernment, does not depend on the physical age alone. Most children who come in contact with the law are abandoned, neglected and abused by their own parents and street adults. With no proper role models, these children do not have the necessary knowledge and skills to determine right from wrong.”

A Save the Children report on the situation of children in contact with the law (CICL) and the juvenile justice process identifies poverty and family violence as the major factors that bring children at risk of offending. The study also shows that almost all of the CICL are first-time offenders. Three types of common offences were identified: offences to property, usually involving cell phone snatching and shoplifting; violation of local ordinances like curfew, and vagrancy, usually involving being and working in the streets. Most of these violations are considered petty offences and committed in the act of survival.

Teaching children to become responsible

Wrong understanding of the law

Wilma Bañaga, Save the Children’s Child Protection Adviser, observes that many local officials, law enforcers and others tasked to implement the Juvenule Justice Law have misinterpreted key provisions of the law.

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“Children aged 15 and below are not completely absolved of any criminal responsibility. They are still made responsible for their actions through a community-based diversion program,” said Bañaga.

The law describes diversion as “an alternative, child-appropriate process of determining the responsibility and treatment of a child in contact with the law on the basis of his/her social, cultural, economic, psychological or educational background without resorting to formal court proceedings.” Under this program, a child who has been accused of offending is brought to the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC). The BCPC conducts a conference with the child, the parents and the offended party and the child is made to understand and acknowledge his or her wrongdoing. The BCPC, parents, offended party and the child then agree on possible actions that the child will take to rectify the offense. A child’s compliance with these agreements is closely monitored to prevent children from re-offending.

“Putting children in jail, filing cases against them, or committing them in centers exposes them to further discrimination and abuse. Should they be put in detention or in an institution, it should only be done as a last resort and for the shortest possible time,” stressed Bañaga.

It works!

In Cebu City, 12 barangays who piloted community-based diversion registered 1319 CICL who underwent the diversion program from 2002 to 2008. Of these cases, only 138 re-offended. Nine out of 10 children were successfully reformed and reintegrated into society. It was observed that repeat offenses were mainly due to the lack of support from the children’s parents in ensuring they maintain the changes in the behavior developed during their period of diversion.

A 2011 study by Cordaid and the Psychosocial Support and Children’s Rights Resource Center, entitled Seeds of Hope, documents the best practices in prevention and response to the needs of CICL, through case studies such as the Pangarap Foundation and Tambayan Center.

In Pasay City and Damariñas, Cavite, Pangarap Foundation adopted approaches in community organizing, parenting education and children’s participation to bring children out of youth gangs. Working in the area since the 1990s, they have lowered the number of established gangs from 50 to 20. They have also observed a decrease in the number of children and youth who join gangs as well as in the number of incidents of violent conflicts between them.

Similarly, the Tambayan Center for Children’s Rights works with adolescent street girls in four urban poor communities in Davao City. Its program is based on the belief that girl gangs need not be seen as a negative influence on the girls’ lives. Since 2005, Tambayan has supported the alliance of girl gangs. It has been observed that the girls now limit the time they spend on the streets, and no longer engage in violent fights or “rumbles” as they used to do. Tambayan strives to change the violent nature of the gangs and turn these into positive support groups that can provide opportunities for change, collective growth, and participation.

“These are clear indications that the period between the ages of 15 to under-18 years old is a crucial window of opportunity for the local government, service providers and implementers to provide the support that children need to prevent them from continuing to embark on a life of crime, violence and self-destruction,” added Bañaga.

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Punish the adult criminals, not the children

Bañaga further explains that lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility will not stop children from committing crimes and adults from employing children to commit illegal activities. This will only result to more and younger children being used by adults.

“It is absurd to punish children who are being ‘used and abused’ by syndicates and putting them behind bars, while these illicit groups roam free. Adults who use children for criminal activities must be made accountable for these actions,” maintained Bañaga.

Save the Children urges the relevant government bodies to properly implement the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act , outlining the following key actions:

a. For local government units to make functional and strengthen the Barangay Councils for Protection of Children; and design, implement and fund a juvenile justice intervention program at the local level;

b. For the DSWD and DILG to train and mentor local officials, barangay tanod, social workers, police, judges, lawyers, parents and other stakeholders on how to implement the law;

c. Raise the awareness of the public on the rights of children and the JJWA; and

d. Promote the principles and practice of restorative justice, which aims to restore balance and harmony in the community or society by helping the offender admit to the offense, face and apologize to his/her victim and work out a solution that is acceptable and mutually beneficial to all concerned. This should be applied for children in contact with the law at the community setting, during pre-trial detention and even after being sentenced in court.

ENDS

More information/All Media Inquiries

Rosana Padua-Macachor, Communications and Media Officer, Save the Children

+63 917 859 0759

Save the Children

+63 2 852 3064 or 852 3059

www.savethechildren.org

1 Encarnacion St., corner Lapu-lapu Ave., Magallanes Village, Makati City, PHILIPPINES

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