Mandatory Placement

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Congress representatives have moved to lower the minimum age of criminal liability of a child offender from 15 to nine years of age, to ‘deter them from taking part in organized criminal activities.’

The recent amendment of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 which exempts minors 15 years of age and below from criminal liability, and allows punishment for minors above 15 to below 18 years of age when it is proven that they acted with discernment was finally pushed.  As early as 2011, I could remember some legislators toying with the idea to lower the minimum age of criminal liability for children in conflict with the law to 12 years, and even nine.

These children were supposed to be placed in mandatory facilities, called “Bahay Pag-Asa” to enable them to reform, with the proper care and guidance from social workers and psycho-social specialists.  This is in line with the spirit of the Juvenile Justice Law which is pegged on restorative, rather than on punitive justice.

A few years ago, I had the chance to interview reformed children from the Bahay Pag-Asa here in Davao City. The results of the intervention were inspiring, as children who were once involved in several cases and offense, were able to reform and be reintegrated in their own community. Most have taken charge of their day to day routine in the facility, which includes a regular time for study, gardening, sports, spiritual nurturance, and counseling, among others.  Compared to placing them in cramped jails and exposing them to the adult offenders and hardened criminals, putting them at the “Bahay Pag-Asa”  enables them to receive love, care, and guidance from trained social workers and psycho-social workers.

Davao City is a cut among other local government units, owing to the strong political will and commitment, as well as collaboration between the LGU and child-focused non-government organizations– all advocates who painstakingly worked to promote and uphold children’s protection, among other rights.

In most LGU’s some challenges have already cropped up.  Out of the 114 “Bahay Pag-Asa” mandated by law, it is said that only 58 were built to provide short-term residential care for child offenders.  Worse, some of these facilities are worse than jails as offenders are put in an inhumane situation where there is a lack of food, lack of minimum staff requirement and proper psycho-social intervention.

Given the lack of understanding on the value of restorative justice not only among lawmakers but also among implementers and a weak appreciation on the human rights of children, there could be no guarantee that appropriate allocation and support infrastructure would be in place.

If only after 13 years after the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, the compliance of LGUs remains wanting in terms of just building the facility itself, then it might take another decade for them to put in place an appropriate intervention program for children in conflict with the law.  With these gaps and realities, do we really want to let decision makers and authorities run from their accountability to make the environment genuinely safe for children?  Email comments to roledan@gmail.com 

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