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Children in jail: What has happened to GMA’s order?

November 17, 2005 ·  , editorial

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Children in jail: What has happened to GMA’s order?

SUPREME Court Justice Reynato S. Puno, in a speech to the Fourth Annual Conference of the Child Protection Unit Network 10 days ago, said:

“According to the Juvenile Justice Network, 10,515 Filipino children are being arrested and detained each year. The Philippine Bar Association has reported that 20,000 children are in jails mixed with hardened criminals. The Save the Children Foundation also has statistics showing that in 2002, more than half of the children in Southern Mindanao prisons had been sexually abused and were suffering from psychological harm. Some girls had been raped and some boys had been sodo­mized.”

Last August a CNN report showed videos for the entire world to see of the grim and savage reality about the way the government treats our children.

Reacting to the CNN telecast, President Arroyo ordered the Department of Justice and DILG to immediately correct the “penological monstrosity” (a term used by a team of UN experts who visited the Philippines a decade ago) of keeping young offenders in jail with hardened adult criminals. Young felons, she said magnanimously, should be kept in special welfare homes.

Justice Secretary Raul M. Gonzalez had derided the CNN special report. He called it “unfair” and questioned why we Filipinos “are giving so much credence to what the foreign correspondents say. They should talk about the child soldiers in Africa, or the child prostitutes in Thailand.”

In any case, Gonzalez ordered prosecutors not to jail children suspected of having committed crimes.

But what about the President’s order to save young offenders from the physical and psychological trauma of being imprisoned with recidivists and hardened convicts? Have the children been moved out of the national prisons and municipal jails and transferred to “special welfare homes”?

Has President Arroyo followed up how her order has been carried out?

The latest information from the justice department is that most of the young jailed offenders are still where they are. Why? Because the government doesn’t have the correct facilities to keep them.

Is the President aware of this? And have she, Gonzalez and everyone concerned with protecting children drawn up a plan to solve the shortage of decent jails?

Philippine law requires the authorities to commit offenders below the age of 18 to the custody of the social welfare department or their parents. Yet, there are 21 minors on death row. Our authorities are flagrantly violating the law and the Constitution.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines presented a study sometime ago by Raymund Narag, a penology consultant to the Supreme Court, showing that prisoners stay an average of 3.2 years in jail before their cases are finally decided. Inmates have 0.28 square meters of space per person way below the three square meters per inmate set by the UN’s Minimum Standard for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Prisoners—including children—die from diseases because of unsanitary conditions.

Narag’s study stressed that child offenders are being kept with adult prisoners under inhumane conditions, an outrage that have persisted under several administrations.

We hope and pray that the Senate bill to reform our juvenile justice system becomes law. That law should inaugurate a system of restorative justice for child offenders, a system that focuses on reform rather than punishment. [End]

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