Children in Conflict with the Law (and with our senses)

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A few days ago, the country was faced with the prospect of nine-year-old children in conflict wiith the law (child criminals, loosely speaking) spending years in jail, for crimes committed under special penal laws and the Revised Penal Code, thanks to the new bill being finalized and debated on by the House of Representatives amending the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (RA No. 9344).

I read and watched as the public sector, influencers, politicians, my colleagues, friends and some family members squabble about this in television, radio and social media. I thought about the many victims our ogranization, JCI WoMandaue, has taken under its wings as beneficiaries, realizing that some of them were victims of child perpetrators. I thought about that guy I saw in Ortigas years ago being mugged in broad daylight by children while he was on his way to work.

It’s amazing what people do or think when shocked with something. A file video of children used by drug syndicates to push drugs into the streets. Videos of theft and robberies along Edsa, usually with jeepney passengers as victims, perpetrated by children. Heinous crimes committed by chlidren on fellow children, or on adults. The President saying that RA 9344 is a stupid law, even calling the author, Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, vile names. The emotions, justifications, and the arguments were enough, at first glance, to justify lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 9 years old it seemed.

This is not a legal analysis of how the proposed bill differs with the current law. I write this as a concerned mother and citizen who just happens to be a lawyer. This is a plea to be genuinely concerned, not just with the potential victims of children in conflict with the law, but with all children in general. After all, we belong to a country that signed the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, among which states:

“2. The child shall enjoy special protection, and shall be given opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means, to enable him to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity. In the enactment of laws for this purpose, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.”

UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959)

I wonder whether our lawmakers HAVE THIS in true consideration, in all their deliberations and in all their policy-making in relation to children, especially in lowering “social responsibility” to 12 years of age. I wonder whether their decisions were based on real statistics and studies, consultations with child protection agencies, a thorough analysis of the current situation of rehabilitative centers that house children in conflict with the law, and an analysis on other areas and aspects of society that would truly answer the question: “HOW DO WE ULTIMATELY PREVENT CRIME?” I hope this is not a knee-jerk reaction to people, or of government’s failure in lowering crime and the drug war that seems to never end.

I look at my 2-year-old boy with fear at the reality that I will not be able to protect him forever, but I hope and pray that when I’m gone, and when my husband is gone, society, through our laws and enforcement of laws, will always hold our child’s best interests in paramount consideration in the truest and purest sense of the word.