At a glance: Philippines

Philippines Senate action builds hope for children in jail

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Philippines/2004/Baluyut
Because of the lack of facilities, children share crowded quarters with adults, such as in this city jail in Metro Manila.

By Sabine Dolan

PASAY CITY, Philippines, 16 December 2005 – The Philippine Senate has passed the Juvenile Justice Bill by a unanimous vote of 21-0 on its third and final reading last week.

One of the aims of the bill is to divert children who commit petty crimes out of the criminal justice system and to keep them out of adult jails. 

Children in jail

In September 2005, it was estimated that over 4,000 children were in jails and detention centers all over the country – many of them mixed with adults. Children as young as nine years of age are arrested and detained for many months, even while awaiting the resolution of their cases. Most are charged with minor crimes, such as petty theft, sniffing solvents, and vagrancy.

UNICEF’s Senior Advisor, Social Welfare and Justice Systems, Alexandra Yuster, who was in the Philippines earlier this year, says more than half of the crimes for which minors are charged are not serious offences.

“We also know that many, many children end up in prison for quite a long time without having had their cases heard. In one study that we did together with the Council and Welfare of the Children in the Philippines, we found that almost three-fourths of the kids in prison had not had their cases heard yet and we also know that these kids end up in prison often for six months or longer. And given that many have committed petty crimes it means that they spend more time in jail then they might have, even based on the sentence they received for what they’re accused of.”

The bill is expected to be enacted into law in early 2006. As a result, 70 per cent of criminal cases against children will be dismissed outright. Children found to be criminally responsible will be referred to rehabilitation programmes instead of jails.

UNICEF is one of the members of the Juvenile Justice Network-Philippines (JJNP), a broad coalition of government agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) responsible for groundwork on the landmark child protection law.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Philippines/2004/Dela Cruz
Crowding is a problem even in detention centres solely for children. Boredom is another common complaint of wards in Molave Youth Home, Philippines.

“We are overjoyed that a comprehensive juvenile justice system in the Philippines is now within reach after many years of deliberation,” says UNICEF Representative to the Philippines, Dr. Nicholas K. Alipui. “Final passage of a new law will mean that thousands of children now wasting away in jails around the country will be free to go back to school, to realize their dreams, and hopefully to try and reclaim their childhoods.”

Philippine Senate Majority Leader Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, author of the bill, remarked, “I am glad that the long wait in the Senate is over, not just for us legislators, cause-oriented groups and advocates, but most importantly, for children in conflict with the law.”

Juvenile Justice Bill: Objectives

The objective of the juvenile justice bill is to fully protect the rights of children in conflict with the law and make detention the last resort. Among other things, the bill:

  • prohibits the detention of children in jails

  • raises the age of criminal responsibility from 9 years of age to a minimum of 15 years. Children aged 15 to 18 years of age are also exempt from criminal liability, unless it is proven by the prosecution that they acted with discernment

  • introduces restorative justice, instead of punitive justice, as the framework for the juvenile justice system

  • provides for the referral of children’s cases to community-based rehabilitation programmes instead of going to trial

  • provides for the implementation of juvenile delinquency prevention programmes, as well as rehabilitation, reintegration and aftercare services.

 

 

Video

16 December 2005:
Alexandra Yuster, UNICEF Senior Advisor, Social Welfare and Justice Systems, discusses the situation in the Philippines for children detained in prisons and the recent passage of the Juvenile Justice Bill.

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