Juvenile Justice

Manila Bulletin, July 28, 2012 | Go to article overview

Juvenile Justice


Recently in the news was a report about a 13-year-old boy allegedly tortured by police officers in Olongapo City after being caught for stealing food. This is a seemingly minor offense by a child that had a tragic ending, in the very hands of law enforcers.

The Juvenile Justice Welfare Council (JJWC), the primary government agencies that protects the welfare of Filipino children, especially those who are in conflict with the law, was outraged by the reported incident. JJWC pointed out that the State, first and foremost, should know how to handle children in conflict of the law (CICL).

"This is a major drawback in our campaign for the protection of the rights of children, particularly children in conflict with the law," said JJWC secretariat executive director Atty. Tricia Clare Oco in a press release.

The alleged police brutality is in violation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) 9344. Chapter 2, Sec. 5 on the Rights of the Child in Conflict with the Law states that "Every child in conflict with the law shall have the following rights, including but not limited to: (a) the right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment..."

It has not been easy for JJWC to push for the proper implementation of RA 9344 as they face another deadlock with legislators after an amendment of the said law has been passed in the House of Representatives and is now a pending Act in the Senate.

LOWERING OF AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

One of the most contended amendments is the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility of CICL.

Under the present law, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 15 years old. The amendment suggests that it should be lowered to 12 years old.

While most of the representatives agree to the amendment, some legislators and concerned organizations are pulling all stops to prevent these amendments from being approved.

The new amendment, which is House Bill No. 6052, under Sec. 6 on Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility states that "A child above twelve (12) years old to fifteen (15) years of age shall likewise be exempt from criminal liability." However, if the child has acted with discernment, in which case, such child shall be subjected to appropriate proceedings in accordance with this Act".

According to Atty. Oco, lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility is not a solution to the problem of growing criminality in the country.

"Lowering the age is not a solution. That has been proven in several studies in several countries for over 30 years," Atty. Oco says in an interview at the recent Juvenile Justice Network General Assembly held in Quezon City.

CRACK THE WHIP

Atty. Oco says that the government should focus on the syndicates and criminal groups that hire these children to commit criminal acts rather than lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

"We keep telling the people we should crack the whip at the syndicates and the adults who are using these children. If you stop them, there will be no children being involved in criminality," she stresses.

Kabataan Party-List representative Raymond Palatino, one of only nine legislators who opposed the Bill's passing, agrees with JJWC's position. He says that this does not make any difference, crime groups and syndicates will instead hire younger children -- children aged below 12 years old -- to commit the misdeeds.

"For me, the amendment will not solve anything. Ang problema ay 'yung criminal gangs hiring minors. The solution really is to run after these criminal gangs," Palatino says.

FULL IMPLEMENTATION, NOT AMENDMENT

All advocates of the JJWA agree that the only solution is to fully implement the law and not amend it. …

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