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Child offenders need rescuing, not incarceration

Cong Corrales . 

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”  — Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa

WHILE the whole country was entertained at how the 40-year-old boxing legend and senator pummeled a much younger pugilist from the “hood” on Sunday, another senator has also been busy pummeling young offenders in the country by pushing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III is proposing that young offenders as young as 12 years be treated like adult criminals. On Wednesday, however, rights advocates were shocked when this was suddenly changed to nine years old.

The committee on justice of the Lower House of Congress met yesterday while the Senate is slated to meet today on this appalling bill against Filipino children.

I am offering two major points with the hope that by the end of this column, everyone would examine this ghastly bill.

First off, the country already has a justice system in place for child offenders. It is the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006. The law covers the different stages involving children at risk and children who are in conflict with the law from prevention to rehabilitation and ultimately, reintegration.

What is needed is the full and effective implementation of this law. Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not magically solve whatever setbacks the current juvenile justice system has been facing since its enactment into law.

Contrary to the propaganda behind Sotto’s proposed law, child offenders are being held accountable. However, they are remanded in a child-caring facility or more popularly known as Bahay Pag-asa rather than being detained with hardened adult criminals.

If this proposed law is passed, children in conflict with the law will be treated as criminals. Just imagine how scarring that would be for a child to be jailed with hardened adult convicts? Now, why would children be mixed with adult convicts, you ask? This is because there is a dearth of child-caring institutions in most of the local government units in the country. So, when your child is indicted for a crime and awaiting a court hearing, the child will be detained in a regular prison.

There are reasons why children are not allowed to vote, apply for any kind of license, which includes going into contracts like getting married. Scientific study has shown us that children react differently from adults.

“Children and adolescents differ significantly from adults in decision-making, propensity to engage in risky behavior, impulse control, identity development, and overall maturity.” (Psychological Association of the Philippines, 2016)

Those who push for this law argue that lowering the age of criminal responsibility would deter crime syndicates from using children. It will most certainly not. No. It will just encourage crime rings to employ even younger children.

Secondly, by lowering the age of criminal responsibility an act which a child views as only rough-housing or schoolyard banter will take on a whole different interpretation in the courts of law.

Allow me to share with you Patty Sison-Arroyo’s Facebook post on how the courts will perceive “child play.” By the way, she is a member of the Council for the Welfare of Children, an attached agency of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The post has since gained traction with thousands of shares on social media platforms.

Read on:

Here are the little-known consequences of lowering to nine years old the age of criminal responsibility:

1. Your child’s misbehavior will become a misdemeanor.

* hurts someone during rough play = physical injuries

* takes someone else’s things without permission = theft

* says something bad about another kid = slander

* breaks another kid’s gadget = malicious mischief

* hurts someone by accident = reckless imprudence

And the list goes on.

2. Your child may be arrested on the spot even without a warrant of arrest if your child has just committed, is actually committing, or is attempting to commit a “crime.”

3. Your child may be detained in a detention cell, possibly with adult detention prisoners, if there is no child-caring institution in your locality.

4. If there is “probable cause” (i.e., it looks like your kid committed the crime), a criminal case will be filed against your child, and your child will have to go to court for trial or “diversion” (an alternative way of finding guilt), which may take years to resolve.

5. If you’re lucky, the case may end up with a child-friendly court – i.e., there is a stuffed toy in the waiting room, some crayons and coloring books, the judge will not put on the black robe, and your kid can testify in front of a video camera from the judge’s chambers right beside the courtroom.

6. If your child is convicted, he or she will not be imprisoned but will remain in the custody of a child-caring institution until the court is satisfied that your child has reformed.

7. After having gone through all of the above, a process which has the potential to destroy the soul and spirit of a full grown adult, your child will be released back to you.

Together with rights advocates across the country, I call on both houses of Congress to instead consider the following:

1. Punish the crime syndicates who take advantage of children, not the children who need to be rescued, supported, and rehabilitated.

2. Push for the full and effective implementation of the law so that both children who commit crimes and their victims are assisted and supported.

3. Instead of lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, support local government units in providing prevention, intervention, and diversion programs for children.

Let us not subject our children to this since this law or amendment to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 will most like affect the children of the poor and marginalized sectors, as we have seen from the ongoing war against drugs.

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