They say that children is the hope of our future
If we adhere to this notion, then what do we say about the children in detention centers? I am referring to the nine holding centers in highly urbanized cities in Metro Manila and in Mindanao, respectively, that we have visited. Albeit until now my organization, Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC),still monitors and continues to visit 5 holding centers. The children at the said centers are below 18 years of age, we still call them children by definition of Law. These centers are also called shelter by local governments whatever their structure depicts.
So who are they, at their young and defenseless age what are they doing at the holding centers?
As an NGO concerned on the welfare of children, CLRDC had the opportunity to visit different holding centers and was able to interview hundreds of minors who are “locked up” at the said centers. Their profiles suggest that most of them were neglected either by their mother or father, or both. 60% from out of 100 children grew up with relatives and have not seen their parents. 98% of every 100 CICL were victims of child abuse, either through maltreatment, sexual exploitation, trafficking, and slavery.
Still wonder beyond yonder how did they end up at holding centers, if they were victims at all of different forms of abuses?
Let me give you a contextual framework: 99% of every 100 CICL interviewed and background checked, came from very poor families by standard and definition of our society and law.
Consider these things: you are economically deprived, you endured different forms of abuse, you were neglected by your parents or one of your parents, and you are a minor, unguided, what will you do with your life. Majority of the CICL came from that context that make them more vulnerable to any situation presented by their environment including their relatives and peers. They landed at holding centers/detention center, whatever you call it, for allegedly committing different offenses such as stealing – -of cell phone, of sacks full of garlic, of 500 pesos, of jackets, of chocolate, pf one-burner stove – – and committing such other crimes of economic deprivation. That’s the thing they learned and saw from their environment. These alleged offenses put them to the more inhuman situation of life and death from the moment of their arrests. Some of the CICL have become slaves to syndicates run by adults lurking around their preys, mostly minors.
When they are arrested either by barangay authorities or law enforcers, they are subjected to another abuse – verbal and physical. Out of 100 children interviewed 70% admitted of being tortured during arrest, interrogation and custody. 99% do not have access to lawyers. They were provided by the State with Public Attorney, but their supposed lawyers never meet them nor visit them, they only see the public attorney during trials, each time they meet, they are like strangers introducing each other again repeatedly.
Another phase of victimization is at the holding centers. When CLRDC visits some of these centers, you can freely smell the stench from the uncleaned toilet bowls of each dorm, the absence of ventilation amid the scorching day drenched everyone and their sweats dripping, these situation contributes to the already revolting smell that attacks your senses. When they eat, the children ate with their bare hands unwashed as spoon and fork are not allowed to be used, water was not provided. The children sleep on the floor, no mattress nor blanket, no lockers for each so their t-shirts were scattered and hanging on the walls of their dorms.
When asked if they were aware that they committed an offense, they said yes because that was the information given to them. Others as young as 12 years old, do not have any idea why he is detained. They have no guidance, they are carefree and they only think of the present moment. Although most of them were abandoned by either mother or father or both, they still long for their parents.
CICL are children deprived of their human rights
The children were supposed to be roses grown in concrete gardens, beautiful and forlorn, But not in the cases of CICL. The condemning public eye see the CICL as criminals, offenders, juveniles. They are more than thrice victims of what you call life, prior to becoming offenders Their being victims do not stop from their situation as a neglected, sexually abused and maltreated child.
I have seen and met different kinds of CICL, and every time I visit them, my heart is always pinched. Their conditions at holding centers pushed them more to the dungeons of their deaths. The center is not for their rehabilitation, it’s deprivation. They have been deprived of so many rights, as a human, as a child.Any noise made are subject to physical punishment. They were not even allowed to play and sing. The wheels of justice for them turns slowly. Homosexuals have no separate cells, gays are mixed with male. Bullying is also becoming a culture at children holding center. The life of children at their cells is an everyday torture.
The Government response to the situation of CICL
The situation of CICL is a reminder of the kind of society that we have and that the government bounds to perpetuate. According to the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, there are almost 11, 000 no. of CICL that are being arrested every year. In principle, CICL are supposed to be deprived of their liberty as a last resort. But we cannot look the other way as the reality speaks of government’s inability to protect the children especially the marginalized ones who do not have access to justice.
The implementation of the Juvenile Justice law is a failure. The government thought that it offered an answer to the situation of CICL by crafting a law that will protect these children. The government offered was just a band aid not a solution, for its miserable implementation of the law. This brings us to draw disturbing questions. Do our legislators attempted or tried to visit and smell the stench of child detention cells? Many of us might have caught a few glimpse of how our country’s juvenile justice system perpetuates the sufferings of CICL and how the poor implementation of the child protection policies gravely affects the CICL in countless ways. The situation of CICL deserves more serious attention.
Now that the Philippine Government will be reviewed in Geneva by the UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT), on April 27-28, 2016, to examine how the Philippines adhere to the principles of the Convention against Torture, it is high time to consider looking into the country’s implementation of the juvenile justice system, where torture is prevalent. Enough to say that the breakdown in the fulfillment of the juvenile justice law repudiates the spirit of restorative justice behind the modern penal system that is to reform and rehabilitate the alleged offenders and victims.
Eleven thousand children are detained each year, the numbers of CICL are growing each year, their innocence and future are slipping away. The time has come for all institutions of the government to effectively implement the juvenile justice law, to save our children, our hope our future.
Despite the situation of the CICL and other children deprived of liberty, you can see the effervescence in their life whenever they see CLRDC visiting them, knowing that we are helping them one by one to be returned to their parents, or transferred to a more worthy shelter where they can play and study and their human rights are respected. The children in conflict with the law see their hope in us – adults. They still cling to their dreams because they believe and depend on us. So let us also believe in them that they can also be part of all the children in the world, who are the hope of the nation, if we can just give them the proper guidance and assistance, and if people will stop condemning and hurting them.
The momentary sparkle and happiness visible at them immediately banish the moment we leave them after our visit.
– Rowena Legaspi