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Elitist law targets the poor—again

"This is pushing back human rights and childrenís development in this country."

 

It's too bad that lawmakers see no other way to address the problem of youth crime than by lowering the minimum age of criminality (MACR), a move that pushes the country back into a darker age. 

Have these solons not enough knowledge, imagination, or compassion to come up with a better solution that will help children instead of hurting them even more by not giving them a chance?

The present law, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (Republic Act 9344) exempts children 15 years old and younger from criminal liability. RA 10630 amends that law to provide that children aged 12 to 15 involved in serious crimes are to be placed in the Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center.

According to youthpolicy.org, RA 9344 placed “the nation in the vanguard of Asian progress on juvenile justice issues. 

“The law, the first of its kind in Asia, was explicitly passed to bring the country closer to its obligations as a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and, “pursuant to the provisions of the Philippine Constitution and Philippine special laws protecting children.” 

The law was a major step ahead for children’s welfare. To repeal it is to push back human rights and children’s development in this country.  The United Nations Children’s Fund has registered its objection to the direction being taken by the Lower House and Senate in this matter, saying the move is an “act of violence against children.”

To lower the MACR is to contend that “children as young as 9 years old are criminally mature and are already capable of discernment,” said UNICEF representative to the Philippines Lotta Sylwander in a statement. 

Scientific studies show that a person reaches maturity at about 16.

While noting that “children in conflict with the law are already victims of circumstance, mostly because of poverty and exploitation by adult crime syndicates,” Sylwander said that instead of pursuing efforts to lower the MACR, solons should strengthen laws addressing juvenile delinquency and provide access to social services, a strong support program, and a child-sensitive justice system.        

 “There is a lack of evidence and data that children are responsible for the increase in crime rates committed in the Philippines,” Sylwander said. She has a point. Show us the data for your decisions, Congress!

As Sylwander said, children turn to crime mainly because of poverty and abuse by adults who force them to commit crimes. But why criminalize children for the faults and shortcomings of adults? Lawmakers and law enforcers should go up against the erring adults who lead children astray.

 Three years ago, amid similar moves back then to lower the MACR, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines suggested a law that could curb the syndicates. Such a law would provide that “the use of children in the commission and perpetration of crime, in whatever manner, shall constitute an aggravating circumstance resulting in an increase in penalty for the adult perpetrator” and to impose “criminal liability on the parents of children who are conscripted by criminal syndicates or individual offenders when it is proved that the parents of such children were remiss in their duties of vigilance and care.” Congress should seriously consider these ideas. 

The government should also step up its anti-poverty efforts and treat the root cause of crime instead of just the symptoms. Reduce the poverty rate and the crime rate will also go down. Many poor children lead desperate lives through no fault nor desire of their own. In view of this, the proposed laws are clearly elitist. It is the children of the poor who will disproportionately fill the jail cells, just as it is the poor who die in the tokhang drug war.

The government should also step up its anti-poverty efforts and treat the root cause of crime instead of just the symptoms. Reduce the poverty rate and the crime rate will also go down. Many poor children lead desperate lives through no fault nor desire of their own. In view of this, the proposed laws are clearly elitist. It is the children of the poor who will disproportionately fill the jail cells, just as it is the poor who die in the tokhang drug war.

 Instead of criminalizing children, put them in school. Make sure they have food, shelter, clothing, books, and toys, and are watched over by responsible adults who can give them good advice and show them a good example. Give them a happy, peaceful home life. The development of children is the first step in forming the citizens of a just and orderly society. 

To lower the MACR is to admit that the government is impotent against crime syndicates abusing children. It is to admit that government is incompetent to solve the problem save through the use of brute force against children. It is to admit that this government does not care about the poor.

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I believe the children are the future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act , Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines , Congress , United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
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