Our country’s future lies in our kids – and also in child criminals

Published September 4, 2018, 9:43 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

Former Senator

A 15-year-old bludgeoning to death with a piece of wood another minor is certainly an aberration in natural child behavior. That the child, generally expected to be good and innocent just like other normal children, is capable of doing something so sinister can indeed be very disturbing.

Atty. Joey D. Lina Former Senator
Atty. Joey D. Lina
Former Senator

But what could be more disturbing in the CCTV footage that dominated TV news last week is the sight of many people nearby who just watched and did nothing to stop the attack that has horrified many viewers for its viciousness and apparent treachery. There are even suspicions these people encouraged the dastardly act.

How come no one lifted a finger to help the hapless victim whose life was being snuffed out right before their eyes? Is this another reflection of the extent of the so-called culture of impunity apparently afflicting Philippine society? Have many Filipinos been desensitized already by the daily killings hogging news headlines? Have we sunk to a point that we have developed
a very low regard for human life and dignity?

Sociologists and psychologists getting a glimpse into what lurks beneath the criminal behavior of a child should provide some insights on how to adequately deal with the spate of petty and heinous crimes being committed by children, and causing an uproar among anti-crime advocates urging the lowering of the minimum age of offenders who could be charged criminally.

To be sure, the recent killing isn’t the first time such a gruesome crime was attributed to a minor. But what made it talk of the town was the fact that it was captured on video, unlike other incidents such as the one in Taguig City on November, 2012, when an 11-year-old was nabbed by police for killing a nine-year-old named Nonoy.

The child suspect, irked after failing to extort money from the victim, allegedly beat up and tied the hands and feet of Nonoy before drowning him in a water-filled hole in a construction
site. They reportedly belong to the notorious band of street urchins dubbed “batang hamog,” the bane of irate motorists falling prey to thievery while stalled in EDSA traffic.

Yet there’s no jail time for the kids because the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 protects child offenders below 12 years old from punishment. But the law has been strengthened with some amendments in 2012. A child above 12 years old up to 15 who commits serious crimes like parricide, murder, kidnapping with rape, or offenses under the Dangerous Drugs Act “shall be mandatorily placed in a special facility within the youth care faculty or ‘Bahay Pag-asa’ called the Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center (IJISC).”

The law also states: “A child above 15 years but below 18 years of age shall likewise be exempt from criminal liability and be subjected to an intervention program, unless he/she has acted with discernment, in which case, such child shall be subjected to the appropriate proceedings in accordance with this Act.”

Many believe that the dilemma on children in conflict with the law springs mainly from poverty and dysfunctional family setup where a family’s sense of moral values is shattered by desperation
to come up with the most basic in the hierarchy of human needs – food – to ensure survival amid a dreary and impoverished existence.

It’s no secret that many impoverished parents condone or encourage child criminality or deliberately develop and expose their kids to a life of crime to augment family income, knowing that children are exempt from criminal liability. This reality has also encouraged crime syndicates to exploit children for nefarious activities particularly drug trafficking. And there’s also the reality that the social welfare intervention could promote recidivism, considering that wayward street urchins who get picked up are assured of food and shelter while under the custody of social welfare officers.
But hope springs eternal. Indeed, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Beyond families and government agencies, the private sector groups, schools, religious organizations, the media, and the rest of the community have their roles to fulfill to help children in conflict with the law through intervention, prevention, diversion, and rehab programs.

An inspiring story is that of Cris “Kesz” Valdez, a former street child whose efforts in taking care of Cavite’s street children won him the 2012 International Children’s Peace Prize. Though not all kids may be as fortunate as Valdez who was bestowed with the capacity to be generous by “some good-hearted people who show me love and care,” as he said in a published report, there is always the chance that the virtues of faith, hope, and charity prevalent in our society would soon do miracles for any child to stay on the right path.

Despite some cynics who say that unwanted children – particularly the solvent-sniffing ones whose wretched lives have made them numb to the consequences of crime and punishment – should be ignored lest those naive fall prey to them, there are always countless men and women in various charity groups working ceaselessly to uplift their plight. Decency and dignity ought to boost efforts not to allow sheer poverty to jeopardize the welfare of Filipino children with whom the future of our country lies.

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