CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 June 2019

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When children are criminalised

The lower chamber of the Philippine Congress is going to approve the lowering of the minimum age of criminal liability of a child from the present 15 years of-age to 12 years of age. They really wanted to reduce it to nine-years-old, but public outcry forced the politicians to change. 
 
Yet, 12-years-old is too young to impute criminal liability. What knowledge and discernment do uneducated, impoverished hungry street children at 12-years-old know and understand?
 
The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act would be a good law if it were to be implemented. But it is not. Out of more than a hundred highly urbanised cities and provinces that are supposed to build homes for the children, only 40 have done so. 
 
Unfortunately, some of these supposed homes for children, called Bahay Pag-asa (Home of hope), are in reality jails for children where thousands now languish hungry, underfed and abused.
 
At present, these are cruel detention centres where the children are mostly treated as criminals held for weeks and months behind steel bars. Practically no activities, exercise, entertainment or education is provided. Many of the children suffer bullying, sexual and physical abuse by the older detainees. 
 
If the minimum age of criminal liability is lowered to nine or 12, even more will be added to these numbers.
 
We know this since our work at the Preda Foundation over the past 45 years has been to rescue them and give them a happy home in an open centre without guards, gates or fences. We give the freedom of choice to decide to stay and get educated and 95 per cent choose to stay. 
 
They are not criminals in the thrall of criminal syndicates as people in the Philippine Congress assert.  
 
This is the present reality of child detention centres with only a few encouraging exceptions. Thousands of small children are in fact behind bars in sub-human conditions, their rights violated day and night. It is a horrific disgrace for the proud Filipino people. See https://www.preda.org/gallery-1/photo-gallery-4/
 
This law is not being implemented to this day. The small children, some as young as 10-years-old are in fact locked up in these overcrowded cells in stinking, sub-human conditions. 
 
The Philippine Congress, in its lack of understanding and knowledge about this reality, will condemn many children as young as 12-years-old to rot in jails where they will be sexually and physically abused. That will be on their conscience.
 
They should make it mandatory for each local government to build a real home for children under the direction of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) and to mandatorily fund its operation every year. 
 
Local governments must not put children behind bars. The congressmen and senators will not call child victims of these horrid cells to testify before them. They might hear the truth. They have never visited the child detention centres and they know nothing about human suffering.
 
These child detention centres have small cells with a dozen teenagers and small children crammed inside in some of them. There is a dirty stinky toilet clogged with human waste. They sleep on the concrete floors in most of these detention centres.   
 
It is untrue and a wild fantasy of congress people to think the children will have recovery, therapy, values formation, medical care, education in nice children’s homes run by a caring, benevolent local government. It is the opposite: the children are treated as criminals and suffer hardship, hunger and are devastated as human beings that do not even have hope of anything better.
 
Millions of pesos have been provided to the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council, established to oversee the implementation of the Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, but much of the money has gone unused. Local mayors do not listen or follow the advice of the council. The JJWC has no power to compel compliance with the law.
 
Local government officials are not interested in building a nice, clean, well-managed home for abandoned children at risk or in dire circumstance, or in conflict with the law. 
 
Politicians consider the ragged, hungry, homeless abused street children, not as children in need of help, but as vermin, pests, undeserving poor, throwaway creatures, useless and not even human. “They have criminal minds,” one top official said about street children.
 
If the reputation of a nation is measured as moral, upright and by the way it treats its poor and its neglected children, then the Philippines is getting a very low score if any at all. The national pride of the Philippine nation is absent when it comes to the plight of its neglected street children. National dignity is sullied and it is nowhere to be found.    
 
The officials and politicians, all uncaring rich elite having never been deprived of anything, unjustly and wrongly call the thousands of hungry children criminals and accuse them of working for crime syndicates as drug delivery boys and girls. But there is no sound, proven information or evidence to back up that unrehearsed assertion and false accusation.    
 
Child detention in the Philippines today is a horrific, unjust, undeserved punishment that is detrimental and destructive to the child. Look at the facts: Out of all recorded crimes, 98 per cent are committed by adults and only two per cent by minors.
 
Out of all alleged wrongdoing by minors, only two per cent are committed by children less than nine years of age.  Children nine to 11 years of age are responsible for seven percent of all wrongdoing by minors. 
 
Then minors 12 to 15 years of age are responsible for 43 per cent of wrongdoing by whereas young people 15 to 18 years of age are responsible for 48 per cent of alleged wrongdoing committed by minors.
 
It is clear that the two percent of crimes committed by minors is miniscule and does not deserve harsh treatment and punishment.   
 
The children see that some of the rich politicians get away with massive crimes of plunder and wallow in putrid corruption creating poverty and homeless children. The children struggle to survive and eat one scant meal a day.
 
Preda Foundation was founded to help children at risk and in conflict with the law and those falsely accused and abused and jailed without evidence. The many children rescued have given testimony to what they suffered. They were saved and started a new happier life of freedom and dignity.
 
 
 
Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org