On November 20, 2014 as children’s rights advocates around the world observed the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Children’s Legal Advocacy Network led by Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC) conducted a “Round Table Meeting on Juvenile Justice” at Balay Internasyonal, University of the Philippines.
The theme of the round table meeting is “Pangangalaga sa Kabataan, Hindi Pagtulak sa Kulungan” (Taking care of our youth, not pushing them to jail). The theme was in response to the current proposed amendment initiated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to lower the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) from 15 to 13. Under the proposed amendment, CICL who are 13 years old can now be tried as an adult and would not be entitled to diversion or intervention program.
It is to be recalled that last year 2013, the Philippine Legislature has made a significant move in enhancing the after care and rehabilitation program for Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) through Republic Act 1063,an Act Strengthening the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 amending for the purpose Republic Act 9344. The RA 10630 is a huge gateway to the dream of every CICL to pursue their goals for higher education and become a responsible member of society.
That childish dream is now being threatened by the current proposed amendment of the DOJ to lower the MACR, without giving Republic Act 10630 the opportunity to be effectively implemented, and in further deference to the human rights of children guaranteed not only by the Philippines Constitution but also by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights treaties that the Philippines have ratified.
“As the Philippines marks the 25th anniversary of the UN CRC, it is high time to discuss the most neglected issue of the inhumane conditions and alleged ill treatment of CICL in holding centers, which is below the international human rights standards for the persons deprived of liberty,” said Rowena Legaspi, Executive Director of CLRDC. Juvenile justice concerns in the Philippines has also alarmed CLRDC partner OMCT, an international organization based in Switzerland that advocates against the use of torture as a form of punishment to persons deprived of liberty. During its mission visit in the Philippines last November 3-7, 2014, its representative Carolina Barbara has witnessed “horrifying” situation of children in one of the holding centers she has visited. “I have seen so many holding centers for CICL in different countries, but this one here is the worst” said Ms. Barbara.
Thus, the round table meeting was an opportunity to discuss how the human rights of CICL can be protected. The meeting was aimed at identifying and consolidating current efforts of different institutions and agencies of the government in forwarding child’s best interests in the context of juvenile justice. CLRDC believes that this RTD could be a tool to harmonize strategies to properly address the current challenges in the implementation of the juvenile justice law.”
Organizations who work for juvenile issue such as the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC), DSWD, Public Attorneys’ Office (PAO), Philippine Action on Youth Offender, Office of Congressman Kit Belmonte, and NGOs that work for children’s rights have attended the advocacy meeting. GMA7’s Strawberry Lane Young Artists have joined the meeting and shared their opinions on the juvenile justice issue. The television series Strawberry Lane revolves around the stories of former children in conflict with the law who have experienced ill treatment and transferred to a shelter.