Punish criminal syndicates, not children –-UNICEF
Manila, October 21—UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, gathered media personalities today to rally support for the proper implementation of the Juvenile Justice Law. At today’s Bulong Pulungan sa Sofitel, UNICEF together with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), underscored the importance of understanding the law. This comes amidst new moves proposing to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility to nine or ten from 15, largely due to unconfirmed reports that children are being used by criminal syndicates.
“UNICEF is of the view that reducing the minimum age of criminal responsibility is not the solution to the use of children 15 years or below in the commission of crimes. It will violate the very essence of justice if children who have been exploited by criminal syndicates are penalized instead of the adults who had exploited them,” Atty. Alberto Muyot, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist said.
The passing of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 was a landmark that gave many children around the Philippines a new lease on life. Before the law was passed, thousands of children were detained in adult jails and treated no differently than hardened criminals. They were exposed to subhuman conditions, not only to health hazards but also to physical and sexual abuse. Ironically, detention was not even called for as 70% of the children had committed petty offenses and 80% were first time offenders.
Under the new law, most children who commit crimes are sent to community-based programs where they receive rehabilitation, counseling, skills training, education, and other activities that will enhance their well-being. Education seminars and microfinancing services for their parents are also offered. These programs have proven effective in the reintegration of these children into society.
“Now that we have a powerful ally in the law, with it comes a greater challenge for us to make our communities understand its provisions and explain why we need to give these children the opportunity to grow and develop. Many of them are already being let down by adults. Throwing them in jails is not the answer,” Vanessa Tobin, UNICEF Representative said.
UNICEF helps these children get a second chance by building the capacities of communities and educating barangay officials, policemen and social workers about the law. It also works with the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council to ensure effective implementation. Together with other NGO partners, UNICEF extends assistance to youth centers where these children receive the care and encouragement they need.