Stories of children behind bars

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FR. SHAY CULLEN, SSC

The Philippine congress is debating to lower the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 to nine. Those promoting the change in the law say children are criminals and are being used by drug syndicates to commit crimes because they cannot be prosecuted. This is not true. The police should go after the drug lords, not blame the children. It seems that the criminal masterminds are immune and untouched, some are police, while the children are being jailed.

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The advocates of the new law claim thousands of children are into criminal acts and into drug peddling and crime. It is not true. The statistics published by Reuters recently show the truth that very few minors are involved in crime.

Children as young as nine years old may be jailed or shot if the bill that seeks to lower the age of criminal liability is passed. Researchers from the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) in 2016 visited detention centers and interviewed the children and discovered that many suffered acts of abuse and even torture.

Eric is an 11-year-old street child. He looks only about six. He is malnourished and stunted like thousands of children living in poverty in the slums and on the streets of the Philippines where the wealth is in the hands of the few.

His schooling is almost zero and he has difficulty writing his name. He committed no crime but ran away from home because his stepfather beat him. He was picked up on the street by officials and was then put in a detention center and then the bad things happened to him. He was treated as a criminal and locked behind bars with other children.

They had just the empty cell, no education, no pictures, just bare walls, only boredom and fear of punishment. There were no beds and he slept on a wooden bench or on the floor. There was no exercise yard, they were not allowed outdoors into the sunlight. They were allowed to stretch their hands out the barred window into the sun. There were no books, comics, toys, learning materials or TV. They just had boredom and detention, cut off from the freedom they loved.

Eric shared one plate of food with six others and they were always hungry. There was just rice and a spoon of vegetables. The toilet was blocked and the stench terrible. The children tried to clean it and failed. There was no shower and they washed at a faucet once a week and were given a piece of soap. They were only allowed one visit a week by relatives. Eric’s mother brought him a change of t-shirt and shorts.

Eric and the others itched from scabies, a skin disease, and got no medicine for it. When he or the others broke a rule, they were punished. They were made to climb up the bars of the cell and their fingers and feet were tied to the bars for hours. They ached from the pain of hanging there in a cramped position. It was in fact more than punishment, it was torture.

Evert, 14, was arrested and brought to another detention center where he was locked in a cell with bigger older boys. Immediately, he was attacked and beaten. He was scared and dominated by a big bully who was the boss or “mayor” of the cell. He and other smaller boys had to obey and do everything for the “mayor.” They were cell–slaves. They had to massage the older boys. They were made to fight each other in the cells. The boxing matches went to three rounds while the guards enjoyed the fighting like a cockfight. He slept on the floor. The food was good and toilets clean. He was tattooed with the mark of a criminal gang. The cells are colleges for criminals.

Another boy, Jake, 15, was arrested by village officials and he was accused of stealing. In the village holding center, he was tortured and punished with electric shocks. He screamed in pain. Then he was brought and locked behind bars in the detention center. There was no due process to determine if he was guilty or not.

Ben, eight, was locked in the cell with older boys. He suffered the same bullying and punishments. He was forced to perform sexual acts on the bigger boys at night.

These are the present injustices, hardships and human rights violations endured by minors of all ages. They are jailed in as many as 17 detentions centers in Metro Manila and many more in other cities and municipalities. Some centers are better than others.

The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council is strongly opposing the proposed law lowering the minimum age of criminal liability of children. It ought to remain at 15 years of age. It should never go below 12 years. Many more children will then be locked in these detention centers and they will be charged with crimes. At present, they are locked and jailed without trial.

Many Filipinos remain silent or they are ignorant of what is happening. Every schoolyard fight, bullying or stealing of candy by children will then be treated as a criminal act and students can be branded and charged with a criminal offense. They can have a criminal

record and their lives are ruined even before they graduate.

This is the report from Reuters: “Between January 2011 and July 2016, 956 children aged six to 17 were “rescued nationwide from illegal drug activity,” according to PDEA. They were mostly involved with marijuana and crystal methamphetamine, a highly addictive drug also known as shabu, and were handed over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Of these, only 80 were under the age of 15.”

In another paragraph it said: “Statistics from the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), the government’s top anti-narcotics body, appear to contradict the Duterte camp’s claim that there is a large number of young children deeply involved in the drug trade.”

There were 24,000 minors among the 800,000 drug users and dealers who had registered with the authorities by November 30, according to police statistics. But less than two percent of those minors, or about 400 children, were delivering or selling drugs. Only 12 percent, or 2,815, were aged 15 or younger. Most of the 24,000 minors were listed as drug users.”

The death toll from the drug war includes at least 29 minors who were either shot by unidentified gunmen or accidentally killed during police operations from July to November 2016, according to the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC) and the Network Against Killings in the Philippines, both Manila-based advocacy groups.

Please share this article with congress people and members of the Senate. Their emails are online. Let’s fight for the rights of the children.

shaycullen@preda.org
www.preda.org

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Filipino citizens please do not allow this insane law of lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 to ever take place. The congressmen who are pushing for this law at the backing of Duterte should be roundly condemned. What if their own children younger than 15 are involved in a crime? Would they be concerned?

    Well they may not really be concerned because they think that if their children are involved in some crime, they would be able to use their influence to excuse their kids. But what about those people who do not have or do not want to use such influence?

    So please reject this law and tell your congressman that if they support this law, then they will lose your support.