Why Blame Children for Adult Crime? Reflections No 389, 25 May 2012
Fr Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and online.
What level of callous cruelty does it take to put children as young as six or twelve behind bars? That is the way it was in the Philippines until the passing of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Bill (RA 9344) in 2006. It forbids the charging or jailing of children younger than 15 years of age with a crime and says they need a diversion and restoration program for a better life. Thousands of small children were jailed because they were hungry, abandoned, begging on the streets. Some may have stolen food to stay alive. Now they are protected but the bill to amend that law was filed on 12August 2010 by Senator Ramon A. Revilla, a movie actor, so kids could be charged and jailed as young as 12. Many youth are victims of frame-ups and false accusations.
Jomar, 15, from a slum in Pasay City in Metro Manila, was pressured to join a gang of youths older than him and they set him up as the fall boy for their crime when they stole a bag from the office of the supervisor on a construction site. He was told to hide it and they took everything, two cell-phones, a camera, a credit card and cash from the bag and left about Php1,600 for Jomar. He was literally left holding the bag.
The real thieves tipped of the authorities and Jomar was arrested and charged with the crime. The mastermind went free. It's typical, the adults lead the youth astray and into crime. The boy served time in a filthy prison cell, suffered hunger, abuse and shock as a first offender. He was saved by the Preda jail rescue team. Children are born innocent but they are corrupted by the bad example of adults.
Most of the Philippine legislators are millionaires, privileged, rich and ignorant of the reasons why children are in conflict with the law. Some want to rescind the child-friendly RA 9344 law and jail them as young as 12. Perhaps they foolishly think that punishment or abuse in the horrid subhuman conditions of jail where their human rights are violated daily would make them better citizens. It will only make them criminals.
Presently the law says that children and youth younger than 15 in conflict with law must be given diversion, not jail. They need help, therapy and restoration to a normal life and not the brutality of prison life. Republic Act 9344 passed in 2006 has saved hundreds of children from being sexually assaulted in jails and their young lives destroyed by hardened criminals. (view CNN Kids behind bars -youtube)
Now some of the 188 Philippine legislators, most of them from wealthy elite families, who have lived sheltered lives of luxury and never went hungry for a minute in their lives treat children as as young as 12criminals.
These scions of the wealthy, who as children lived pampered, protected lives in mansions and as adults never visited a slum, seen real poverty or met children behind bars, know almost nothing about the lives of the poor. They are ignorant of the dire social situation of hundreds of thousands of poor illiterate street children and youth. The poor are poor because the rich rulers, through unjust laws, have gathered the wealth of the nation for their families and corporate friends. Like the parliamentarians that came from Germany to visit Filipino jails, the Philippine legislators should do likewise.
Some senior police officers have pushed for the amendment too claiming that the children are being used by syndicates to carry and deliver drugs. No convincing evidence for this has been presented to the senate committee. Charities caring for street children have never seen a single case of a child charged as a drug runner. The senior police officers promoting the amendment ought to go after the real masterminds of the drug trade. Surely they are not scared and are not on the drug lord's payroll.
We need to call on defenders of children everywhere and especially the good Philippine senators where the discussion on the amendment is still pending at the committee level. They ought to reject the amendment and preserve the present law and do more to see it is implemented fully to protect children. Their duty is to stop the violation of human rights in degrading and subhuman jails and not to send twelve-year-old kids there to be raped and abused. The good senators can reject the amendment and be true defenders and not punishers of children.
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