UniversityJuvenile justice, children’s future discussed in KAMALAYAN forum
Juvenile justice, children’s future discussed in KAMALAYAN forum

Last February 8, the Kapihan ng Malalayang Lasalyano (KAMALAYAN) forum on Juvenile Justice and Welfare was held at the Learning Commons, sixth floor of Henry Sy Sr. Hall with the aim of providing information and an avenue for multilateral discussions between different sectors of society.

In attendance for the forum were public school teachers, pastors, children reformation program workers; and DLSU students, most notably from the Br. Andrew Gonzalez FSC College of Education and the DLSU Alternative Learning System.

 

 

A symptom of deeper problems?

During the first part of the forum, the video Bunso ng SELDA was shown to the audience. The video told the story of Diosel, an 11-year-old incarcerated in Cebu City jail. The video was shown to give the audience an idea of what children like Diosel experienced before Republic Act (RA) 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 was passed into law. After the video was presented, members of the audience were given an opportunity to share their insights from the clip.

George* reflected on the video and shared, “For someone as young as nine years old, to experience that kind of pain na ikukulong ka for something na di mo alam ay tama o mali [is not right] kasi sobrang bata pa niya. ‘Di naman kailangan silang parusahan. Kailangan silang i-guide para mabuo nila ang konsepto ng tama at mali.

(For someone as young as nine years old to experience that kind of pain of being imprisoned for something you didn’t know was right or wrong [is not right], because that child is really young. They don’t need to be punished. They need to be guided in order to form the concept of right and wrong.)

He also added in Filipino that “it would spark crime rates even more because, as the child goes to jail, he won’t be taught properly. Thus, his experience inside will be brought to the outside”.

John* argued that “when people commit crimes, society is at fault because we don’t provide them with an avenue for them to be educated. So the people at fault aren’t the ones who commit crimes, but the ones who deprive them of education”.

 

 

A problem of implementation, not laws

In the first lecture, Atty. Rowena Legaspi and Atty. Pamela Camacho of the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center discussed the different provisions of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 and the strengthening of the act through RA 10630.

Some of these provisions included the prohibition of labelling and shaming of children who have committed crimes, the prohibition of detaining children pending trial, and the creation of the Bahay Pag-asa.

Camacho warned the audience and the media on the negative effects of  labelling children as “young criminals” or “juvenile delinquents”. She thus urged that children in conflict with the law (CICL) be used instead.

 

Confronting claims head-on

Legaspi and Camacho also presented some of the arguments raised by those who support the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR). Legaspi, in response to the belief that CICL are used by syndicates, makes it clear that “they (proponents of the bill) never presented any data” to back up their statement.

Legaspi also rebutted the notion that we should have a lower MACR to be at par with countries who have set theirs at a low level. She emphasized that “We are not like those countries. They have good rehabilitation and development programs, and we cannot compete with them.”

The third speaker of the event, Associate Dean for Student Affairs Elaine Aranda, who is also a practicing psychologist, focused her discussion on the psychological perspective of lowering the MACR. She explained that the basis for criminal responsibility was whether the act was done with discernment or the use of a person’s judgement in interpreting what is right or wrong.

 

 

Proponents of the bill argued that even children at an early age have the ability to discern their actions, making them liable for crimes they may commit. Aranda refuted this claim in two ways. First, she explained that the ability of children to use discernment is largely limited by the fact that their minds are not yet fully developed. Given that they are still very young and at a stage of learning, their idea of what is right and wrong has yet to fully form, and thus they cannot be said to practice full discernment.

Second, she explained that there is a strong social aspect in how children behave. They are easily influenced by peers, which makes them susceptible of manipulation by criminal syndicates, even if they know the action is wrong. Given this, the ability of children to make decisions based on their own morality is also limited, which again makes them unable of having full discernment.

Finally, Aranda concluded her talk by discussing the consideration for the circumstances of CICL. She explained that most of these children already live in difficult circumstances and that they are likely to already have disadvantages in education and opportunities growing up. If they were to be punished, this would only worsen the problematic situation they already face, she argued.

*Names are pseudonyms