At a young age, it is important for the youth to be reared with a sense of social responsibility so that they may be able to contribute to the community. However, most of these young adults, tend to become juveniles because of a series of factors that have affected their growth and learning. In this study, the researchers seek to find the factors that cause the juvenile to repeatedly commit violations against the law. Also, this study aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of the existing juvenile justice policy in the Philippines. With these in mind, the researchers pray for a better and more relevant juvenile justice system that will address the increasing number of those children in conflict with the law.
One’s childhood is an important contributing factor in the development of a child. It is through these years that they discover their first learning experiences which would later on form their cognitive, emotional and social development. As members of the society, it is our duty to fully optimize these early years of children’s lives so that we may be ensured of a peaceful and more productive country.
Poverty, however, destroys our dream for a progressive nation. It gives the youth a reason in order to commit crimes just so they could survive a day without going hungry. Most out of school youth usually narrate how difficult it is for their families to make ends meet because of the number of members to feed daily. That is the reason why they had to step in so that they may be able to alleviate the problem in their respective families. However, their solution creates a new problem which affects everyone in the society. So, is poverty really to be blamed for all of this?
Parents are the ones who are most responsible for rearing up their children to success. It is their duty to provide for their needs especially food and education. But because of the ongoing inflation of prices and the struggles of their day to day life, their earnings are not enough to cover everyone in their family. Hence, poverty can only be diminished but can never be totally eliminated in our society.
Now, the real challenge is redirected towards the government. Over the past years, our justice system has been intermittently shifting between a punitive and a rehabilitative approach in dealing with the so called children in conflict with the law (CICL). Poor juvenile court outcomes usually result to repetitive misconduct of these delinquents. Such neglect has contributed greatly to the increase of juvenile-related crimes which caused a detrimental threat to youth development as well as maintaining a secure environment for all. Hence, it has left an enormous question on the minds of the citizens of this country: “Is there an urgent need to legally reform our laws in order to improve the current situation of juvenile delinquents in the country?”
Background of the Current Juvenile System of the Philippines
At the time of Former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Presidential Decree No. 603 or the “The Child and Youth Welfare Code” was issued. It enumerated and described the role of the children and the youth to the society, as well as their rights and responsibilities. As stated in the law, juvenile offenders are defined as those who are over nine years but under twenty-one years of age at the time of the commission of the offense. Children who were below nine years old shall be exempted from criminal liability and the custody of the child shall remain to the parents or guardian under the supervision of the Court. On the other hand, juvenile delinquents above nine years old shall undergo proceedings to the Court and shall be charged with the corresponding penalty for their liabilities. This is in relation with the Judiciary Reorganization Act 1980, signed into law by Former President Marcos Sr., which abolished the juvenile and domestic relations courts. Child offenders were to be subjected to the same adversarial proceedings as their adult counterparts. Because of this, it has created a social issue regarding prison abuse and punitive treatment of the youthful offenders which resulted to violent reactions among numerous citizens. Hence, the juvenile system was reformed.
Republic Act No. 9344 or the “Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act” was authored by Sen. Francis Pangilinan in order to administer a holistic and restorative justice approach towards youthful offenders. This Act defines the Juvenile Justice and Welfare System as a system dealing with children at risk and children in conflict with the law, which provides child-appropriate proceedings, including programs and services for prevention, diversion, rehabilitation, re-integration and aftercare to ensure their normal growth and development. In this reformed law, the age of discernment was raised from nine to fifteen years old. Children below fifteen years old are exempted from criminal liability, and the custody of the children shall be released to the parent or guardian or the nearest relative; in absence thereof, a non-governmental or religious organization, the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC) and the DSWD. Moreover, the code also introduces that instead of undergoing trial, the juvenile delinquent shall be referred to community-based rehabilitation programs as well as juvenile delinquency prevention programs, rehabilitation, reintegration, and aftercare services facilitated by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC).
After a few years, the purpose of the code was again amended in order to strengthen the Juvenile Justice System in the Philippines. The passing of Republic Act 10630 in 2013 by the Congress allows children as young as 12 years old to be held criminally liable for serious crimes such as rape and murder, among others. The law also mandates local government units to establish “houses of hope” or Bahay Pag-Asa (BPA) which is a child-caring institution established, funded and managed by local government units and licensed to provide short-term residential care for children aged 13 to 17 who are awaiting court disposition, repeat offenders and those considered neglected, abandoned or abused. But as with most legislations, implementation of RA 10630 remains a challenge for LGUs, whose years of neglect have allowed for inhumane conditions of children inside youth centers.
Situation of CICL in the Philippines
It is not a surprise that the Philippines is a nation of children. This is in relation to the fact that we are one of the most populated countries in the world. In Philippine laws, instead of using the word “juvenile”, the word “child” is being used. As defined in R.A. No. 9344, “Child” is a person under the age of eighteen (18) years, while “Child at Risk” refers to a child who is vulnerable to and at the risk of committing criminal offenses because of personal, family and social circumstances. Examples mentioned in the law are: being abandoned or neglected, and living in a community with a high level of criminality or drug abuse. “Child in Conflict with the Law” or CICL on the other hand refers to a child who is alleged as, accused of, or adjudged as, having committed an offense under Philippine laws.
Out of the many Filipino children in the country, approximately 1.5 million of them are living on the streets with an average increase of 6,365 heads every year. Moreover, around 60,000 children are converted as prostitutes with an average increase of 3,266 garnering the Philippines as fourth in the list of countries with the most number of prostituted children. Hence, there is a 1 out of 3 ratio that these children experience abuse.
In the situation analysis of children in the Philippines conducted by Coram International, most of the children in conflict with the law in the Philippines are male and the crime most commonly committed is theft. Since 2009, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of children having conflicts in law. Meanwhile, the rate of girls committing offenses against the law are very low and it is not known whether the rate of offending has decreased since 2012.
The top five most reported offenses by children based on the records of the Philippine National Police between 2012 and 2015 were theft (49 per cent), physical injuries (22 per cent), robbery (9 per cent), rape (7 per cent) and violation of RA 9165 or the law prohibiting minors the use of volatile substances to induce intoxication or alter auditory, visual or mental processes (3 per cent).
As of 31 May 2017, the statistics available indicate that 39 children (38 boys and one girl) under the age of 18 were in detention, making up 0.09 per cent of the prison population. This means that the statistics show a significantly low number of children in contact with criminal justice detained by the police. However, because the figures are so low, they may not be regarded as credible anymore. There is an unknown information in the number of children who came in contact with the criminal justice system but were under the minimum age of criminal responsibility so they eventually exited the criminal justice system. There is also little information on the background or geographical location regarding these CICL, but ‘abandonment, neglect and non-satisfaction of needs’ appear to be the dominant reasons of their repetitive misconduct. The lack of records about these children in conflict with the law, in relation to charges, convictions and disposals is a challenge that the National Juvenile Justice Welfare Committee must address.
Factors Why Children Commit Recidivism
For the past years, the juvenile justice has been finding better punitive and rehabilitative approach to deal with young offenders who must be spared from recidivism. There are many risk factors for juvenile delinquency such as family, school problems, neighborhood, environment and poverty. Because of the existence of multiple problems and risks, predicting juvenile delinquency as well as detention placement and recidivism outcomes is difficult.
There has been limited research that attempts to predict juvenile recidivism. Studies have measured recidivism as re-adjudication by the juvenile court, and not recidivism into a detention center or custodial facility. It is important to know the risk factors that impact both detention placement as well as detention placement recidivism. The experience of detention is unique and studies have shown that detained youth are more likely to continue engaging in delinquent behavior and may increase the odds of recidivism. Some studies also define recidivism as a return placement into a detention or incarceration facility. Most of the youth recidivated to detention facilities were found out to have personal or school-related problems. It is not however, clear that these problems are linked to poor decision-making or the other interaction of various other risks. Reviews have also consistently stated that youth having personal and family problems have a significantly higher risk for juvenile court involvement. It was also proven by developmental studies that behavioral and emotional problems are predictive of later delinquency and substance abuse. Moreover, childhood depression and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder have been linked to later delinquency shown through physical aggression and stealing behaviors. It was also found out that 60% of the youth inside correctional facilities are identified to have mental disorder, while 35% are identified to have special education disability and between 30%-50% are found to have significant substance abuse disorder.
Furthermore, poverty is the root cause of all evil, according to most scholars and highly-acclaimed personas. This is because poverty hinders a child from acquiring the basic necessities in life such as proper education and physical nourishment. Without the opportunity to attend school, a child’s mental capacity becomes underdeveloped. They would usually confuse right from wrong because no adult is present in order to correct their mistakes. Their only way of learning is through the experiences that they encounter in their environment which may either bring out the worst or the best in them.
In addition to that, their family members who should have been their pillars of strength, are also unstable causing a big dent on one another’s familial relationship. Most of these children in conflict with the law come from broken homes where chaos and violence reign. They have been used to the same kind of life style and they tend to carry the same upbringing into the society.
Another factor which contributes to a child’s criminal mentality is through drug abuse. It is dangerous for young children to get addicted to these kinds of substances because of their lack of self-discipline. At a young age, one should practice control of his own thoughts and actions. These harmful substances greatly affect cognitive thinking and reasoning and as such, it allows the youth to do illegal activities.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) reports, children who live and work on the streets in the major cities of the country are prone to human trafficking, violence, sexual exploitation, and crime and drug abuse. The Department of Social Welfare and Development has observed that most of these CICL are out of school youth and are usually males between 14 to 17 years old, and in some cases involve much younger children. The future of children in conflict with the law remains uncertain. Once they are released, they will return to their harmful environment with a possible chance of committing crimes again.
Problems with the Juvenile Justice System of the Philippines
With the numerous amendments made to the Republic Act 9344, it may be assumed that the juvenile justice system of the Philippines has somewhat improved. However, loopholes are still prevalent in the system. This has caused an internal debate within the Congress as to whether or not the outcome of the policies are still progressive. Hence, should the Congress lean towards a punitive or rehabilitative type of juvenile justice system?
Ever since Republic Act 10630 amended Republic Act 9344, the raising of the age of criminal liability has greatly increased the number of crimes committed by CICL and has ultimately become a repetitive behavior among them. More minors are now involved in different modus operandi allowing criminal syndicates to continually use them for their illegal operations until such time that they reach the age of majority. Moreover, these juvenile delinquents are abusing the age of criminal liability by repeating their misconduct again and again since they know that they would not be held accountable for these criminal acts while they are still considered minors under the law. It is important to truly determine the age of discernment for these child offenders in order to put a stop to the ongoing cycle of abuse and malpractice in the country.
Another problem with regard to our juvenile justice system is the absence of a proper court jurisdiction that shall handle cases for juvenile delinquents. Other countries such as the United States have courts which cater only to juvenile cases. In the Philippines however, we only have a family court which caters to different cases from marital to succession and sometimes juvenile cases. It would be better to have a court that is separate for matters of the youth so that strict implementation of the laws may be implemented faster and recidivist case s may be gradually addressed. With this said, it is also better to have a separate prison for child delinquents from adult offenders so that they may not be further corrupted by other adult criminals. Programs would be different for the youth as compared to the adult because it would be more focused on the development of their cognitive, psychological and physical growth.
A rehabilitation system in the form of Bahay Pag-Asa has already been set up for youthful offenders upon the passing of Republic Act 10630 but it has now become a gateway in order for these juvenile delinquents to escape trial and continuously abuse the system. According to the report of the DSWD, only 19 of these centers are setup nationwide and they are all poorly managed. Hence, allows the youth to commit recidivism by committing crimes and going in and out of jail as they please. Each province must at least have their own rehabilitation center for the youth with strict implementation of the laws and a corrective program which ensures the strict adherence of these juvenile delinquents to the law. It should not serve as a gateway to escape trial, but rather it should be an end game to the crimes committed by these youthful offenders and a pathway for them to live a happier and peaceful life.
Poverty is not the answer to all our social problems in this world. It is how and what we can make out of poverty which shapes the future of our nation. It is up to us, the citizens of this country, to build one nation which continues to fight despite the struggle and hones the future generations to become better individuals for a progressive and peaceful society.
There is indeed an urgent need to reform our laws in order to address the current situation of our juvenile justice system. If neglected, crime rates caused by youth offenders would continue to increase and more minors would become involved in illegal operations. We need to put a stop to this abusive cycle by first, returning the age of criminal liability from fifteen years old back to nine years old as proposed by the former president Marcos in his Presidential Decree No. 603. Although age of discernment may vary from child to child, the researchers believe that by lowering the age of criminal liability, abuse of the repetitive criminal cycle may be diminished. At a young age, these children should be strictly imposed with a corrective measure in order to prevent them from committing recidivism.
Moreover, propositions of the researchers regarding the separate juvenile court and prison for youthful offenders may also deem efficient so that programs would be more concentrated on the upbringing of the youth and their development. The rehabilitation centers would also become more punitive in nature rather than rehabilitative so that abuse of the cycle may not happen and a corrective measure would be instilled in the minds of the youth that they may not once again repeat their criminal acts. It would serve its purpose by strictly imposing the law on these young offenders but protecting their rights and welfare as well while they are being detained in the center until the age of majority where they will be up for trial. Their improvement in the center would serve as a compensation for the punishment that may be awarded to them for their criminal charges. In line with this, their respective parents and guardian would also be subject to trial upon the arrest of their children so that an evaluation of their care for the child may be made. If proven that they have committed child negligence, custody of the said child in conflict with the law may be stripped away from them.
Apart from the government measures, the community also plays an important role in the involvement of children with the justice system. First, they can pen ordinances that punishes acts that may be committed by children or non-penal ordinances that benefit the children. This barangay function, however, was not maximized for the benefit of the children. Second, the barangay is a community where the children are apprehended. Aside from the police officers, the barangay tanods are the ones who arrest and hold in cells those children in conflict with the law. Lastly, it is the community where children return after their apprehension, detention or service of sentence. The lack of established programs to address the community reintegration and rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law is the cause of recidivism. The appropriateness of community-based reintegration and rehabilitation programs such as curfew, cleaning of the community, drug-testing or sports activities must also be reviewed if deemed inefficient.
The efforts made in the barangay level must also be revisited. At the barangay level, together with some nongovernment organizations, are developing support systems for children in a form of peer support groups. In this system, former CICL are trained to become peer facilitators who can help other children get away from the risk of making offenses against the law. Meanwhile, adult volunteers provide the children another level of support by way of monitoring the progress of former CICL who have been reunited with their families and by raising awareness campaigns among parents and other significant adults about the children’s rights and children’s justice issues. The barangay children’s justice committees also conduct mediation session and diversion to CICL.
The issues of children in conflict with the law must be addressed in a holistic and integrated approach. CICL are more often viewed as a threat. More so that the youth are seen primarily as offenders who need to be punished rather than as children who have present concerns and issues. This perspective needs to be corrected and we should approach the issue with clear rights perspective. In this research paper, we hope to reflect on the value of the juvenile justice system in addressing the issues of children in conflict with the law. The issues of CICL must be viewed in a broader context of family, community and society. This means that the underlying factors that caused this issue must be addressed and the community, whether in national or local, must adopt complementary and necessary strategies for the betterment of this nation.
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Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. (2016, July 22). Lowering the Age of Criminal Liability: What to Be Considered?. Retrieved from https://cmfr-phil.org/in-context/lowering-the-age-of-criminal-liability-what-to-be-considered/
Congress of the Philippines. (2006, March 22). Republic Act 9344. Retrieved from https://www.lawphil.net/statutes/repacts/ra2006/ra_9344_2006.html
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Higgins, Ma. Isabel
University of St. La Salle JD 1
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