Illustration By Owen Reyes
Classical Sociology would argue that every part of the society, everything that is happening in the society, has its own function. Even crime has its own function. It serves as a reminder that there is something wrong with how we do things. Juvenile delinquency is the violation of laws of young people aged 17 and below. As young as they are, can we blame them for what they have done? Let’s see.
Toes: roots of juvenile delinquency
To question what would be the ultimate root of criminality would take more than the pages of this magazine to answer. It may be too general, but the lack of religiosity (of whatever belief) does not help in molding a moral person out of our young people. When children grow up in an environment wherein morals are not clearly given importance to, they grow up confused about what is right or wrong. Things that the society sees as bad may be seen by these children as no big deal.
The lack of proper guidance from the parent, or even from the community at large, exposes the young people to abuses that might lead to them a cycle of criminality. Another very evident reason why there is a steady rate of criminality among the young people is poverty. If both parents are out working, who stays at home taking care of the children? If both parents are out working and they bring their children with them, who shields them from harsh realities in the society? Poverty forces the parents to be frequently away from their children missing important times when the children need the parents’ guidance the most.
Knees: Philippine laws or the lack thereof
The Philippines has its own series of protective laws for the young population. One of this series was Presidential Decree No. 63, otherwise known as the Child and Youth Welfare code, which was signed into law on December 1974. One of the most important provisions of this law is focused on the rehabilitative function of the state, which the state should make sure that all essential rights of a child will be protected from the capture up to the closing of the case.
Further improvements were placed on writing with the passing of Batasang Pambansa Bilang 129, which was passed on January 1980. This law devolved the judicial power to Regional and Municipal courts to act as a special court that would hear juvenile and domestic relations cases. The problem with this provision was that these courts were also acting as ordinary courts which hear other criminal and administrative cases among others. When Presidential Decree 1179 was passed, it gave a clear definition of who juvenile delinquents were. A youthful offender is over nine but under eighteen years of age at the time the offense is committed. Violators who are in between the ages of nine and fifteen will only be liable if they are to manifest discernment. This age gap is critical for this demonstrates a stable level of maturity and the ability to think morally of one’s actions.
Shoulders: Restorative justice system
With the signing of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act 2006 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Philippines joined the bandwagon of introducing a new juvenile justice system. The law calls for a restorative justice to be the main course that the justice system should take. Restorative justice system entails a more rehabilitative approach on reforming children who are in conflict with the law.
The state wanted to ensure that these young members of the population would still be able to come back as normal members of the community after rehabilitation, avoiding stigma and ridicule from other people. The problem though is that the Philippines does not have enough facilities that cater to the needs and rehabilitation essentials of young offenders. With the high number of offenders and few penitentiary systems in the Philippines, it is sad that there are instances wherein juvenile delinquents are held captive together with older offenders. This does not help them in their rehabilitation. It exposes them more to more abuse and cruelty.
The issue now is the proposed amendment to the 2006 legislation that would decrease the age from fifteen to nine of offenders who could be held liable of their actions. The idea of the Senators, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero in particular, is that children nowadays are more capable of doing crime. Whether by instinct for survival, influence by a syndicate, or a plain show off to friends, young offenders today are aware that they are violating rules, but still defy such rules. And this is something that should not be left unseen. Children committing crimes are getting younger and younger.
Head: Where values should be.
There are movements to intensify education for young people. The task to inculcate morals and value for life and property is definitely the task of the parents, but that does not stop the other parts of the community from playing its part. AKAP (Adhikain Para sa Karapatang Pambata) of the Ateneo Human Rights Center, was established to provide legal assistance and attention to young offenders. This ensures that children will not succumb to the already corrupt judicial system in the Philippines.
The group aims to enlighten young offenders that the justice system is fair. They have violated a law. They have to realize their mistakes and learn from it. PAYO (Philippine Action for Youth Offenders) was established on December 1993 as a national organization of government agencies and individuals working for the protection of the rights of youthful offenders and children in conflict with the law.
Are we to sing along?
The only good thing that this issue brings to the table is the idea that people, at least the Senators, are not just complacent as to how the judicial system treats children in conflict with the law. Yes, they have committed a crime. Call them criminals if you want but that does not change the fact that they are still children. They have years to right their doings and even make-up for it. Jose Rizal said that the young people are the hope for the future. I say, the young people, more than of the future is the hope of today. If we do not take care of them today, what then will be their future?