CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 December 2018

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Making children scapegoats for criminals

OLONGAPO (SE): Two bills have been filed in the lower house of the Philippine congress by the speaker, Feliciano Belmonte, one proposing a change in the law to make children possibly as young as nine- or 12-years-old criminally responsible and the other to reintroduce the death penalty.

“This is draconian and repressive for children and not worthy of the administration of Rodrigo Duterte or the Philippine people,” social commentator, Father Shay Cullen, told the Sunday Examiner on July 15.

“The children are innocent, most are illiterate, abandoned, neglected and have been failed by both society and government. Children younger than 15 are being used by criminals to commit crimes, because they cannot be prosecuted, proponents of the law say. This is baloney,” Father Cullen stresses.

He says that although there is no evidence to support the theory, he believes that the children are being controlled, used and exploited by criminals, but since they are unable to act out of free will they cannot be liable for wrongdoing.

“The children are just scapegoats of uncaring authorities and an indifferent society,” the Columban missionary says forcefully.

He adds that this is not the first time this issue has come to the congress, but on a previous occasion the Department of Social Welfare and Development through the Juvenile Justice Council opposed the law and when opposition emerged from the wider society the idea was dropped.

“It is wrong to blame children for the crimes of adults,” Father Cullen says. “It is anti-poor and anti-child welfare laws. If adult gangsters do use children to further their drug and crime syndicates, they are the ones guilty of child abuse and exploitation and they ought to be arrested and tried for child abuse and drug possession.”

Father Cullen contends that if the police are brave enough to shoot small time drug couriers and pushers, they should work at summoning up the courage to arrest the big time barons, but taking it out on young children is not any way to enforce justice, as it is simply treating children as pests to be eliminated.

Although technically if the two bills are passed children as young as nine could be hanged, it is unlikely, but the whole process is simply a statement from an administration that it has failed in its duty of care for children and only intends to eliminate them from society.

Father Rudy Diamante said that street children under 15 should be deemed neglected, not criminals.

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