CHILDREN ARE VICTIMS, NOT CRIMINALS
Privilege Speech of Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Arlene D Brosas
02 August 2016
I rise today on a question of personal and collective privilege I raise my concern along with mothers from the poorest communities.
Mr. Speaker, I am a child rights advocate who has spent years of my life in poor communities where mothers can barely send their children to school or even give them decent meals three times a day. A profile of an average youth offender would show a child who has not finished or attended school, who come from low-income, even destitute families with parents who do not have regular employment or the means to properly care for their children.
A survey conducted towards the end of 2015 revealed that more than 2.6M families have experienced involuntary hunger. If each family experiencing such hunger has at least three children, this would translate to 7.8M hungry Filipino children. It is thus not surprising that the National Nutrition Council has placed the number of malnourished children at 4M, with 3.4M stunted children and at least 300,000 categorized as wasted or severely malnourished.
The number of out of school Filipino children is estimated at 4M. Salinlahi Alliance for Children's Concerns reports that with the implementation of K-12, this number is expected to soar.
Forced to help their parents find meager resources to buy even just a kilo of rice, more than 5.5M Filipino are victims of child labor - children are forced to work in factories, plantations, haciendas and mines. Worse, children are becoming involved in petty crimes including drug peddling and prostitution. In fact, the Philippine National Police has reported an increase in the number of children forced into cyber pornography and prostitution from 87 in 2014 to 136 in 2015.
Many of these youth offenders are children left to cope on their own amid a harsh, even heartless environment where dog eats dog. They walk among thieves, drug traffickers and syndicates who teach them that there is no other way to survive and they are forced to toughen up or be eaten alive. Who teaches them otherwise?
Sa aking palagay, maling-mali na ituring ang isang batang siyam na taong gulang na nasa lubos at wastong kakayahang mag-isip at mapag-iba ang tama sa mali at samakatuwid ay marapat na mabigyan ng kaparusahang tulad ng ipinapataw sa mga higit na nakatatanda. Mr. Speaker, ang batang siyam na taong gulang na mapalad na makapag-aral ay nasa ikatlong baiting lamang sa elementarya.
Nais ko pong sabihin na ang panukalang ilagay sa siyam na taon ang edad ng pananagutan ng batang nagkasala sa batas ay walang malinaw na pagtatangi ni pagkilala o kahit katiting na konsiderasyon sa kalagayan ng nakararaming mga batang nagkakasala sa batas o mga children in conflict with the law.
Sadya nga bang maituturing na pagkakasala lamang ng mismong bata kung sila man ay lumabag sa batas, magnakaw, maging tagahatid ng ipinagbabawal na droga o sa pianakamalala pa ay makapatay sa edad na siyam na taong gulang?
It may be easy for many among us in this chamber to say that these children should be in school. Yet we overlook the fact that education is never free, even in public schools. Education is costly and it is not something that can be accessed by 100% of our school-age children and their families.
It may also be easy for many among us in this chamber to say that young recidivists, juvenile offenders with repeated offenses are proof that the system of having social workers, welfare officers and institutions attend to youth offenders have failed.
It may also be easy for many among us in this chamber to look at youth offenders and say that this early in their lifetime they have lost all hope of leading productive and fruitful adult lives.
Huwag naman po sana at nakakalungkot naman. Ang mga batang nagkakasala at lumalabag sa batas ay dapat nating ituring na mga biktima at hindi mga kriminal.
Mr. Speaker, fellow legislators allow me to cite an earlier position by the Psychological Association of the Philippines on proposals to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years old.
“ The developmental immaturity of juveniles mitigates their criminal culpability. Although they may be able to discern right from wrong action, it is their capability to act in ways consistent with that knowledge that is compromised by several factors at this stage: (which includes) 1. Deficiencies in decision making capacities; 2. Heightened vulnerability to coercive circumstances and; 3. The disadvantaged environment and profile of the Filipino child in conflict with the law.”
The position paper further states: “Research indicates that most youth abandon antisocial behavior at the time that they exit adolescence, and that only a minority persists in criminal behavior as a function of pervasive neurological and environmental risk factors. In fact, exposure to the criminal justice system, where the child will be labeled a criminal and where he or she is exposed to criminal models, will more likely establish the “criminal identity” of the young person.”
Salinlahi Alliance for Children's Concerns and the Philippine Action for Youth Offenders echoes this concern. Allow me to also quote from their position paper which states: “Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will result in negative consequences for children and the public. It will increase the number of children detained for long periods of time, making them more likely to become hardened offenders.”
“Detention may also increase the likelihood that young people will recidivate, compromising public safety. Incarcerating children goes against established principles of proportionality and fair treatment and contradicts the best interest of the child and the rights of children to maximum survival and development,”
Mr. Speaker, colleagues, by treating youth offenders as criminals, by incarcerating them and allowing the society and the environment to label them as such we are almost sealing their fate—that of spending the rest of their adult life as a criminal.
I could not agree more with the Speaker of the House and the President himself that indeed the increased involvement of the youth in criminal activities is cause for alarm. However, in proposing to lower the age of criminal responsibility, we may be making the situation worse and creating a far bleaker and darker future for the generations to come.
The Philippines is signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have long inked our commitment to undertake all appropriate measures towards the protection of children and the implementation of the rights enshrined in the UNCRC to the extent of all available resources. It is our commitment to take into consideration, with every step, the best interests of the Filipino child. Thus, let us all take a look at the bigger picture and address the roots of the problem at hand.
Let the 17th Congress be a catalyst towards ensuring that children have access to basic social services—that children and their families do not go hungry, that their parents have regular jobs with living wages that we attain a 100% enrollment of all school-age children in this country.
Iminumungkahi ng Gabriela Women’s Party na bigyang pansin natin ang lubusang implementasyon ng Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. Una nang nakita ang kakapusan sa implementasyon nito noong nakaraang maamyendahan ito noong ika-15 Kongreso. Hindi na binago ang minimum age of criminal responsibility sapagkat nakitang kapos sa implementasyon sa usapin ng pagbibigay ng restorative at rehabilitative justice.
Kung papansinin po natin at malalim itong pag-aaralan, makikita nating hindi pa ito maayos at lubos na naipapatupad ang Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. Ilan nga ba sa ating mga barangay sa buong bansa ang may Bagangay Council for the Protection and Welfare of Children na aktibong kumikilos at nag-iimplementa ng batas? Sa hanay ng ating mga kapulisan, mga opisyal at boluntir sa barangay, ilan ang nakagagagap ng kanilang tungkulin sa ilalim ng Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act at may sapat na kaalaman sa wastong pamamaraan ng pagtugon sa mga kaso ng mga batang nasasangkot sa krimen?
Maganda ring masilip natin, ilan nga ba ang pasilidad ng Department of Social Welfare and Development na nakahandang tumugon sa pagpapanibagong-hubog ng mga kabataang nasasangkot sa krimen at gaano ng ba kalaki ang kapasidad nito? May sapat ba tayong bilang ng mga social workers para tumugon?
Dati nang kinilala ang pangangailangan para sa karagdagang pasilidad, mga Bahay Pag-Asa, subalit sa datos mula sa Department of Social Welfare and Development aabot lamang sa lima sa kabuuang 46 na pasilidad para sa mga batang nasasangkot sa krimen o mga tinaguriang children in conflict with the law. May karagdagang 11 pang pasilidad na pinatatakbo ng iba’t ibang lokal na pamahalaan. Kapos na kapos ito sa gitna ng nakababahalang mga datos ng paparaming mga batang nasaangkot sa krimen.
I enjoin all of you into calling for a probe into the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and I enjoin the 17th Congress to muster all resources to help strengthen our capacity to respond to the problem of youth offenders by establishing more halfway homes and empowering our social workers on the ground.
Mr. Speaker, fellow legislators, let us look into how well we, the government have responded or not responded on the growing problem of youth offenders before putting the blame on children themselves – children, who are victims, and definitely not criminals. #