THERE are some haunting images from the past when children as young as 6 years old were incarcerated behind iron bars and mixed in with adults in prison cells where they ended up being abused by pedophiles. Hungry children jailed as criminals for begging in the streets. That’s what some Congress people want to bring back by lowering the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 years old to nine or 12 years old. It’s a return to the Penal Code of 1930.
The jailing of small children as in the past (see photo of Rosi) is still happening today and kids are put behind bars (see www.preda.org gallery). This is forbidden by Republic Act 10630. Lowering the minimum age of criminal liability will make this more common. Local governments do not have the proper facilities to care for children in conflict with the law (CICL) and children at risk (CAR). What they have are jail cells. How much more if the Congress changes and amends the law to allow nine or 12-year-olds to be held criminally liable even for misdemeanors?
Children, boys and girls, are being picked up for violating a curfew decree and held in jail cells. They are vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse under those conditions and are frequently left unfed and sleeping on the concrete floors. Is that what the People of the Philippines want to do to the most abused and neglected children?
The criminalization and jailing of children is in violation of the best interests of the child. It is a violation of their rights and forbidden by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Philippine law under RA 7610.The best interests of the child and respect for the human rights of the child is number one, and much more important than lowering the age of criminal liability which would brand them as criminals at nine or 12 years old. It is clear that the Congress people rooting for the lowering of the minimum age of criminality from 15 years to nine or 12 have never met or seen the majority of street children and youth who are taken from the streets and jailed.
They will see that they are small, malnourished, ordinary children desperate for respect, attention, affection, friendship, food, education, skills training and, if 16 and older, they need a job and a chance of reconciliation with a solid family.
The UNICEF, DSWD and NGOs have repeatedly stated this fact. The child is a child in need of childhood, not jail and criminal court proceedings. But bad as it is, it is less violent than just shooting them dead, as is apparently and allegedly a state policy if they are branded as drug suspects. As many as 5,000 people, some minors, have been allegedly shot dead.
The teenagers are in need of education and skills training also and not to be treated as criminals; otherwise they will soon become one. As they are treated so they will become. For 44 years, the Preda Foundation has given rehabilitation and recovery therapy to youths living as a therapeutic community in an open home. There is no need for guards and cells, gates or fences. The youths are children in need, not criminals. The Preda’sproven track record shows this to be true. They recover from abuse and neglect with respect and dignity restored with therapy.
Youths and children in conflict with the law take any chance to grow and reform their neglected and broken lives. But once badly treated and abused by authority and treated as criminals, it is very hard to convince them that they are not criminals and can have a new life.
Lowering the minimum age of criminal liability and treating the youth and children as criminals will make them behave like criminals. Congress will sow the seeds of anger and revolt in the hearts of these children. They will grow to be anti-social and seek revenge on those who tormented and abused them.
With the punitive abuse, government and society becomes the “punisher” of children, not the healer and protector. If we allow this to happen we will lose thousands of youths to the world of criminality instead of saving them for the future building of the country.
When criminals exploit children, the police and authorities must go after the adult criminals and not be afraid of them, and not just arrest and prosecute children. The adults exploiting the children can be prosecuted more easily under RA 7610, the child protection law.
The children so victimized can testify against the suspected abusers and exploiters and convictions will follow. We appeal to the intelligent and wise Congress people to leave the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years. What must be done instead is to protect and help them through diversion and rehabilitation and to strictly implement the law that says local governments must have proper therapeutic homes for children in conflict with the law and children at risk, not jails and prison cells.