Child rights advocates to gov’t: Cut poverty, ensure basic social services
MANILA, Philippines – Various groups advancing child welfare and rights on Friday staged a protest outside the Senate complex to oppose efforts to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in the country.
Led by Child Rights Network (CRN), groups like Save the Children Philippines (SCP), Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns (SACC), and Y-Peer Pilipinas gathered while senators tackle proposals to change the existing MACR at 15 years old to 12.
Y-Peer President Ralph Ivan Samson said lawmakers should instead focus their energy on putting additional funds to local government units (LGUs) for the creation and/or improvement of child-reform center Bahay Pag-asa than tinker on MACR.
“Nananawagan kami sa aming mga senador na instead na ibaba yung MACR, bakit hindi natin pondohan ng mas maraming pondo ang ating mga LGU para mag-create ng Bahay Pag-asa. Nakikita natin na maraming LGU na walang Bahay Pag-asa,” Samson said in an interview.
According to Samson, not all Bahay Pag-asa centers comply with international standards for child-reform centers as most of them lack equipment and facilities for child rehabilitation.
“Wala tayong pasilidad para conducive yung mga bata sa loob at hindi dapat sila kailangan ikulong. Hindi lahat ng Bahay Pag-asa ay merong international standard at walang activities sa loob ng pasilidad na ‘to,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, SCP asserted lowering MACR could only result to criminalizing more and younger children.
The group noted criminalizing minors do more harm than good as it “(does) not deter them from offending nor reduce their reoffending.”
It added that lowering MACR could also place “massive” demand on the nation’s justice and social welfare system that is “already struggling to properly implement the existing Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA).”
“This means an increase in the number of cases for the courts, increased need for institutional facilities and programs and services, increased need for more social workers and other service providers, and more financial resources for all these to happen,” SCP said.
“Addressing the needs of children in conflict with the law and those who are at risk requires a robust social welfare system to meet the required interventions and standard of care that children deserve no matter what they have done,” it also said.
SACC, for its part, called on the government to instead ensure “adequate, proper, and strengthened” implementation of JJWA.
“Responsive programs and policies to address poverty, including job generation, genuine land reform and access to free basic social services such as health and education, should be a top priority,” SACC said in a statement.
“For as long as children and their families are stuck in the quagmire of poverty, criminal acts, whether by adult or children, will continue to proliferate,” it added.
The Balay Rehabilitation Centers (BRC), an organization that practices psychosocial rehabilitation, said: “The victimization of children must be stopped. Justice demands that children be given a chance for a brighter future.”
‘Plague’ of society
On the other hand, groups comprising barangay officials and leaders also assembled outside the Senate compound, supporting congressional moves to lower MACR.
A supporter of lower MACR claimed 12-year-old children had become “plague” in society and streets, and that many children today were druggies that’s why incidents of holdup or snatching have become prevalent.
“Payag po kami sa 12 years old na papatawan na ng criminal case kasi sila na po ‘yung mga salot sa lipunan lalo na sa ating mga lansangan,” Barangay Holy Spirit purok leader Juan Bilosoy told INQUIRER.net.
“Kaya marami po ang nagaganap na holdapan, snatching, at saka mandurukot, lahat na po ng ginagawa nila, karamihan po sa kanila mga adik. Kapag wala na silang maibili sa droga, ano pang gagawin nila kundi magnakaw na po sila,” he added.
A barangay desk officer of the Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL), Tessie Cellona, also supports lowering MACR. She lamented that despite various efforts to rehabilitate CICL, they continue to commit crimes.
“Napapansin po namin na mas marami ang nagagawang pagkakasala nung mas mababa ang edad (We noticed that younger kids are committing more crimes),” Cellona told INQUIRER.net.
“Dini-diversion naman po namin, lahat po ginagawa naming (We do diversion, we did everything): community service, livelihood programs tapos ‘yung (then) spiritual counseling pero ang nangyayari hindi pa rin sya nagiging maaayos (but the children are still unchanged). Mga ilang months, balik na naman sila sa gawain nilang hindi maganda (After a few months, they go back to their unpleasant ways),” she added.
She also noted that children aged 12 years old are often used by criminal syndicates to carry out crimes.
“Sa tingin po kasi namin, ‘yung mga batang ganyan po ang edad, ‘yan po madalas po ang gamitin ng mga sindikato kaya ang mga bata rin ay wala na ring takot gumawa ng krimen (We think, those younger children, they are the ones usually use by syndicates that those kids also are not afraid to commit crimes),” Cellona said.
Cellona argued the proposal to lower MACR does not necessarily mean children would be jailed.
“Hindi naman po sila ikululong eh, ilalagay sila sa rehabilitation center (They will not be jailed, they will be placed in a rehabilitation center),” she said. /kga
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