Deprived of innocence
This is a reaction to Inquirer’s September 22 editorial titled “Lost innocence” which cited recent crimes involving children to justify proposed amendments on the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Law of 2006.
Almost half of the estimated 94 million Filipinos are children. It is a fact that some 65 million Filipinos or some 70 percent of the population try to live off on P104, or even as little as P20-P40, a day. This situation is rooted in chronic problems—lack of job opportunities, unjust wages, landlessness and the like. For most Filipino families, food for daily survival comes first before any other needs like schooling and health care, especially now that the government has opted to cut back on the budget for basic social services. The endless price hikes in basic commodities aggravate the situation, and the band-aid solutions of the government cannot ease their sufferings.
As a result, at an early age, children are forced to help their parents earn a living to relieve their hunger—by scavenging, begging, selling sampaguita along busy streets, while some end up committing petty crimes such as robbery, snatching and hold-ups. Yet after a hard day’s work, they still go to bed hungry or jailed.
News of syndicates and corrupt adults taking advantage of these children—using them as drug couriers and as burglars—should have forced the government to strengthen its resolve to pursue the adult culprits. The children, on the other hand, should be protected and properly rehabilitated. We believe that punishing these children and putting them in jail by amending the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act to lower the age of responsibility from 15 to 9 will further darken their future. Instead, the government should push for the full implementation of this law. The juvenile justice intervention program should be given due attention to offer alternatives for these children.
Furthermore, it is truly depressing to hear of children involved in crimes like the shooting in a mall and strangulation of a classmate. But as child rights advocates, we are dismayed that the blame is solely being laid on the children and their parents. The fact is, the culture of violence is apparent in the tri-media, and the children’s psychosocial well-being should be protected against it through education on children’s rights for the parents and other stakeholders and through psychosocial service for children who need it.
We believe that the government is primarily responsible for creating an environment suited for the children and this it must do by addressing the roots of poverty through sustainable jobs, providing accessible social services and promoting a culture that will raise children as productive citizens.
—JACQUILINE RUIZ, executive director, Children’s Rehabilitation Center, 90 J.Bugallon St., Project 4, Barangay Bagumbuhay, QC; www.childrehabcenter.org
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