Children Are Not Criminals

Children Are Not Criminals
Father Shay Cullen
23 November 2016

There are some haunting images from the past when children as young as 6 years old were incarcerated in jail behind iron bars and mixed with adults in prison cells where they were abused by pedophiles. Hungry children jailed as criminals for begging on the street. That’s what some congress people want to bring back by lowering the minimum age of criminal liability from 15 years old to nine or 12 years old. It’s a return to the penal code of 1930.

The jailing of small children as in the past (see photo of Rosi) is still happening today and kids are put behind bars (see gallery).It is forbidden by the law Republic Act 10630. Lowering the minimum age of criminal liability will make this all the more common. Local governments do not have a proper home for detained children in conflict with the law (CICL) and children at risk (CAR). They have jail cells. How much more will it happen if the congress changes and amend the law to allow nine or 12-year old children to be held criminally liable even for misdemeanors?

Children, boys and girls, are being picked up in violation of a curfew decree and held in jail cells. They are vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse under those conditions and are frequently left unfed and sleeping on the concrete floors. Is that what the People of the Philippines want to do to the most abused and neglected children?

The criminalization and jailing of children is in violation of the best interests of the child. It is a violation of their rights and forbidden by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Philippine law under RA 7610 .The best interests of the child and respect for human rights of the child is number one and much more important than lowering the age of criminal liability which is branding them as criminals at nine or 12 years old. It is clear that the congress people rooting for the lowering the minimum age of criminality from 15 years to nine or 12 have never met or seen the majority of street children and youth who are taken from the streets and jailed.

They will see that they are small malnourished ordinary children desperate for respect, attention, affection, friendship, food, education, skills training and if 16 and older they need a job and a chance of reconciliation with a solid family.

The UNICEF, DSWD and NGOs have repeatedly stated this fact. The child is a child in need of childhood, not jail and criminal court proceedings. Although bad as it is, it is less violent than just shooting them dead by a death squad as is apparently and allegedly a state policy if they are branded drug suspects. As many as 5000 people, some minors, have been allegedly shot dead.

The teenagers are in need of education and skills training also and not to be treated as criminals for they will soon become one. As they are treated so they will become. For forty-four years, the Preda Foundation has given rehabilitation and recovery therapy to youth living as a therapeutic community in an open home. There is no need for guards and cells, gates or fences. The youth are children in need, not criminals. The proven track record shows this to be true. They recover from abuse and neglect with respect and dignity restored with therapy.

Youth and children in conflict with the law take any chance to grow and reform their neglected and broken lives. But once badly treated and abused by authority and treated as a criminal, it is very hard to convince them that they are not criminals and can have a new life.

Lowering the minimum age of criminal liability and treating the youth and children as criminals will make them like criminals. Congress will sow the seeds of anger and revolt in the hearts of these children. They will grow to be anti-social and seek revenge on those who tormented and abused them.

With the punitive abuse, government and society becomes the “punisher” of children not the healer and protector. If we allow this to happen we will lose thousands of youth to the world of criminality instead of saving them for the future-building of the country. They are poor and helpless before the authoritarian law.

When criminals exploit children then the police and authorities must go after the adult criminals and not be afraid of them and not just arrest and prosecute children. The adults exploiting the children can be prosecuted more easily under RA 7610- the child protection law.

The children so victimized can testify against the suspected abusers and exploiters and convictions will follow. We appeal to the intelligent and wise congress people to leave the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years. Instead what must be done is to protect and help them through diversion and rehabilitation and to strictly implement tha law that says local governments must have proper therapeutic homes for children in conflict with the law and children at risk, not jails and prison cells.

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