Juvenile delinquents need help, not jail time

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“WHERE are the youth who will generously pour out their blood to wash away so much shame, so much crime, so much abomination?” These are the words of Padre Florentino, the patriotic priest in Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo.

Sadly, today’s youth are now regarded as one of the causes of national shame, crime and abomination by a bunch of legislators who would rather put children as young as nine years old behind bars than protect and rehabilitate them.

Congress is debating to amend the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 to lower the age of criminal liability to nine years old from 15 years old.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro filed last year House Bill 2 or the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Act, a bill that calls for the arrest of minors forced by drug syndicates to engage in criminal behavior.

Castro in his explanatory note said the measure was in line with the administration’s war on drugs, as it would supposedly prevent children from being conscripted by drug lords to commit crimes. Under the existing law, they cannot be prosecuted because they are minors.

Isn’t their claim ignorant and misplaced? Pushing for this amendment only shows the incompetence of law enforcers in implementing the law.

Our lawmakers should not put the blame on children forced into delinquency by criminal masterminds. They should focus on catching the drug lords or the adults who coerced these innocent children into a life of crime. Ironically, the syndicates often escape criminal charges, while the children are the ones tagged as offenders.

Although I have witnessed some violent acts by children on the streets, putting them in prison is not the solution to the problem.

Lawmakers should instead address the ineffectiveness of institutions, such as the Department of Justice and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, in guiding young delinquents to the right path.

Unfortunately, the problem is being addressed only through written statements and vague proposals. Prior to proposing this bill, did these lawmakers even stand for the rights of children who face injustices and violence, or those suffering in filthy bars or detention places?

To solve juvenile delinquency, proper implementation of the Juvenile Delinquency Act is needed, not the proposal to lower the minimum age of criminal liability that is purely anti-poor and anti-children.

How can the youth wash away the blood brought by the shame, crime and abomination of this nation if the government locks them up permanently blood-stained, while the criminal masterminds are out there, protected and untouched?

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