The following is an article which appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Online. The story is by Veronica Uy. The highlights are mine. The outrage must be felt by all who read it.

21 children in jail await execution
Bill to save them gathers dust in Congress

First posted 03:22pm (Mla time) July 02, 2005
By Veronica Uy
INQ7.net

TWENTY-ONE of the 2,000 or so children in jail throughout the country are on death row, an official of the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) has said.

Eighty percent of the 2,000 are first-time offenders, and 11 percent are girls.

(Bambit’s note: Let us translate that into the shocking numbers they actually are—Out of the 2,000 children in jail, 1600 are first offenders, and 220 are girls.)

In an interview with INQ7.net, CWC executive director Lina Laigo said the 21 condemned children were either convicted of homicide or murder.

“But nobody bothered to look into the circumstances of their crimes,” said Laigo, a former secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

In some instances, juvenile suspects were tried as adults for lack of record on their age, she said. “But there are other ways of determining a person’s age aside from birth certificates.”

The CWC, DSWD and the United Nations Children’s Fund have been lobbying Congress to enact the proposed Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Law. It seeks to provide special protection to children in conflict with the law.

Laigo said the bill has four key provisions: raise the child’s age from nine to 12 years old to be criminally liable, establish separate detention centers for children, provide a diversion program to keep them out of jail, and to institute “restorative justice” in the law.

Restorative justice, Laigo explained, essentially seeks to repair the damage done to victims. This way, public safety is enhanced as the offender, victim, and the community come together to prevent juvenile delinquency.

The campaign for the protection of child offenders has been going on for 10 years, and the bill to comprehensively address juvenile felony has been waiting Congressional action since 1998. However, it has been sidelined by other issues, Laigo lamented.

“We started five congresses ago,” she said. “Maybe we don’t realize that children, especially children in conflict with the law, must be given priority.”

Child advocates maintain that “jail is no place for a child” and a death sentence is too heavy a verdict for erring children.

********

People’s Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance (P.R.E.D.A.) Foundation reports:

In the Philippines, children as young as nine years old could be tried as adults, and subsequently sent to adult jails. Although Philippine law stipulates that children with pending cases should be brought to the YDCs, in most cases, this has not been possible since only a dozen of these centers exist in the entire country, and they are usually full. According to conservative estimates, the number of children in jails has grown to more than 20,000, or 10 percent of total prison population.

In many of the jails, the children were made to perform massages on police officers and adult inmates in exchange for small amount of money or food. The right of the children to be treated in a manner conducive to their rehabilitation is denied in all cases. None of the children were provided with adequate exercise, and no attempt has been made to provide them healthy mental stimulation or rehabilitation.

The country where my children are growing up in actively violates its own laws that provide for the protection of children and their rights. Another PREDA report states:

The state practice of jailing children with adult crime suspects in police jails does not only lack any basis in Philippine law. It violates—with impunity—a host of Philippine laws as well. Article 191 of the Child and Youth Welfare Code (Presidential Decree 603) mandates that a child “from the time of his arrest be committed to the care of the Department of Social Welfare.”

Section 11 of the Rules and Regulations on the Apprehension, Investigation, Prosecution, and Rehabilitation of Youth Offenders (1995) provides that “a youth… from the time of his arrest be committed to the care of the Department or the local rehabilitation center or in a detention home distinct and separate from jails.”

This country can provide mansions for its officials but cannot build homes for its children. This predominantly Catholic country venerates the Santo Niño, the Child Jesus and hosts his various images in palaces of stone and marble, yet turns its back on children whom it has willfully banished into dungeons of despondency.

If our way of life fails our children, it will fail us all.*
—————
*paraphrasing Pearl S. Buck

Caged Children

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6 thoughts on “Caged Children

  1. Ah! Heartbreaking. I have students who are in and out of jail, sometimes they see each other in jail, and they talk about it with me as if it’s a normal part of their life. Indeed, because their parants are convicted criminals too who are in and out of jail. I feel so helpless, I have no power over the law.

    In my understanding, Live8 is our generation’s version of Band Aid, Live Aid and USA for Africa, and the Pinoy’s ‘Handog ng Pilipino Sa Mundo’. Am I right? How did the concert go? This is another history…

  2. Hi! Bloghopping. I read the same article last Saturday and I was outraged. I used to volunteer at Correctional Institution for Women before I came to the US and I knew several inmates who were incarcerated as minors. I feel so outraged and helpless too–especially with the political crisis going on in the Philippines. =( The hypocrisy of the government is so obscene.

  3. if there is such a commandment that says “Honor thy father and thy mother”, i hope there would exist “Parents, Care and love thy children.”

  4. This is definitely shocking. How can we, as Christian people, send children to the death row? There is something wrong about how our laws are made. There is something sick about our lawmakers. If they can spend endless hours talking about dethroning the president, I hope they will find ample time to free children from their cages and send them to school instead.

  5. Pahabol–Hi Fr. Stephen, I agree with what you said. It’s really hypocritical of our supposedly Christian society to leave our children languishing in jail. The prison system/culture corrupts our youth. The last time I went home to the Philippines, some inmates on death row in CIW told me their cases were under review, especially the case of someone who was incarcerated when she was 17. But with the political crisis there right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s on the back burner.

  6. Hi! I’m Veronica Uy. It’s been more than a year since I wrote that article and a lot of positive things have happened: CNN did its own feature on actual kids in jails; and finally both Houses of Congress have passed the bill and the President has signed it. Of course, there’s still a lot to be done. People who enforce the law are still not conversant, if at all aware, of the law. Hopefully, with more people caring, caged children (i like the title by the way) will be a thing of the past. Believe me, even in media, there are still a lot of misconceptions, which means, there is still a lot to be done. Thanks for posting the story and thanks for all the wonderfully caring reactions.

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