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Philippines enacts law on juvenile justice system

© UNICEF Philippines/2004
The advocacy against juvenile detention results in the enactment of the Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Law .

MALACAÑAN, 16 May 2006 – President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo today officially signed the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Bill into law with a large group of congressional leaders, senators, representatives, cabinet members, policemen, jail wardens, advocates, activists and children celebrating the arrival of a long-awaited milestone in the promotion of child rights in the Philippines.

President Arroyo had certified the legislation as an administrative priority late last year. Both the Senate and House of Representatives earlier unanimously passed the measure, signifying an unusual level of unity among the national political leaders.

Member-organizations of the Juvenile Justice Network Philippines (JJNP) are collectively pleased with the newly enacted law saying that “the law will benefit the most marginalized group – child offenders”. Child offenders, according to Consuelo Foundation, Inc., a JJNP member, are the “most discriminated and most hated group”. JJNP is a broad coalition composed of government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGO) that coordinated a groundswell of advocacy and lobbying in congress over the last three years, resulting in passage of the new child protection law. JJNP members were also one in saying that signing the bill into law only marks the beginning.  

Many important features of the Juvenile Justice System law have been adopted from provisions of important international agreements such as the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, and the UN Rules for the Protection of Juvenile Deprived of Liberty. 

Dr. Nicholas K. Alipui, Country Representative to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), another JJNP member, said, “The Philippine government today has proven its commitment to abide by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This is a great example on how a group working together can achieve something as groundbreaking as this law.” Alipui added, “Now, we must concentrate on implementing it. Children in conflict with the law (CICL) have been waiting far too long for a law to help them in their situation.”   

Lina Laigo, Executive Director of the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), echoed Alipui’s statement, “We finally hurdled the first step. The second step, the implementation, is the difficult part. We must make sure that the service providers namely, social workers, police, local government units, NGO and other concerned parties know the law. We must also educate parents on how to discipline their children in a constructive and not a punitive manner.”

The Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights (CHR) will monitor the implementation of the law in observance of the best interest of the child. Dr. Purificacion Quisumbing, CHR Chairperson, said that the law can improve the delivery of justice for the youth and likewise improve the justice system on the whole. “However, we still need resources. We need to build separate jails and detention centres. We need rehabilitation programmes for CICL,” Dr. Quisumbing added.      

Atty. Menchie Obmina-Muaña of Ahon sa Kalye Ministries aired a similar view. “The chief concern of our organization right now is the 600 or so children aged 15 and below who will be released from jails but do not have families to return to. Where will they go? What is the government’s programme for them? Our organization lacks the financial resources to create programmes for these children.”

As for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the new law serves a challenge. DSWD will chair the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, which is another provision of RA 9344. “We have been conducting re-training of our social workers to upgrade their skills. In the administrative end, DSWD and other agencies in the council must coordinate efforts to create a system that is more efficient and effective. Coordination likewise eliminates duplication of work,” DSWD Undersecretary Celia Yangco said.       

Yangco added that first-time child offenders will be the one to fully benefit from the law. She however fears that adults will take advantage of the new rule by using children as accomplices or accessories to a crime, which is currently happening.   

Other features of RA 9344 include:

  • adoption of restorative justice
    increasing the age of criminal responsibility from nine to 15 years of age;
  • establishment and strengthening of local councils for the protection of children;
  • establishment of comprehensive juvenile intervention programmes;
  • establishment of community-based programmes on juvenile justice and welfare;
  • adoption of a system of diversion – diversion is defined as any act with the end goal of disposing the case involving a youth offender without resorting to formal trial by the competent authority
  • implementation of diversion programmes
    exemption of minors from prosecution for the crime of vagrancy and prostitution, mendicancy, and sniffing of rugby;
  • exemption from the application of death penalty;
  • provision on status offenses which means that any conduct not considered an offense or not penalized if committed by an adult shall not be considered an offense and shall not be punished if committed by a child;
  • provision for child-sensitive proceedings; and,
  • imposition of appropriate disposition measures.

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For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Dale Rutstein
UNICEF Manila, 901 0177 or 0917 866 4969, drutstein@unicef.org
Alexis Rodrigo
UNICEF Manila, 901 0173 or 0917 858 9447, arodrigo@unicef.org

 
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