Slow Justice for Detained Children
Buensuceso, Ronald Caraig, Likha Cuevas, and Jenielle Marie Enojo
Alvin (not his
real name) was incarcerated for 6 months for his alleged crime of
shoplifting a 200-ml shampoo worth P89 ($1.59, based on an exchange rate
of P55.83 per US dollar) from a big grocery store. In another municipal
jail, a child was imprisoned for three years because he allegedly stole a
tomato from a vendor in a wet market.
The alleged crimes
committed are often not commensurate to the penalties given to the
convicted CICL, according to studies and NGOs handling children in
conflict with the law (CICL).
ON WHEELS: Roving courtrooms, fast-tracking pending cases involving
children in conflict with the law
As illustrated by the
SCUK-Phils study (see Table), the penalties for stolen property in the RPC
of 1932 (still being followed today) are outdated and these should be
reviewed. For example, a stolen property worth more than P5 but less than
P50 would be enough to jail a person for one month and one day up to six
interviewed for this report said that they do not understand why they are
jailed for so long. They are not briefed regarding the penalties that
apply to their cases.
Another reason for
the long detention of the CICL in youth homes and jails is the
postponement of hearings. One CICL said his hearings were postponed six
times because the complainant did not appear.
A study conducted by
Psychological Trauma and Human Rights Program – Center for Integrative and
Development Studies of the University of the Philippines (UP CITS-PST)
revealed that CICL also had to keep on waiting for the presiding judge to
arrive. There was a time when hearings stopped because the judge resigned.
The CICL was already more than 18 years old when the hearings finally
Dashell Yancha also
said that there are errors in the computation of penalties for these CICL.
One CLRD staff lawyer had an argument with the fiscal over the computation
of sentence done by the presiding RTC judge. The fiscal did not want to
correct the judge because he might be cited for contempt of court.
One example of the
errors in the computation of the sentences is when the court did not
deduct the time the child was detained in jail (preventive imprisonment)
from the total sentence that the child should serve (Art. 29 of the RPC)
There was an instance
when the child was detained for a year and the sentence he was supposed to
serve is two years. However, that CICL still had to serve the two-year
sentence because the court neglected to deduct his stay in jail before his
To make things
easier, PAO lawyers convince the children to plead guilty rather than take
the risk of getting a very long stay in jails or in youth homes, Save the
Children UK-Philippines reported.
Vilches admitted that
there are justifications to this practice. She stated that at any rate,
convicted CICL would not have records. “When they apply for work, they
cannot be liable if they say they were not convicted because under the
law, his crime has been erased. It's not that we recommend that but it's
the most practical thing to do,” she said.
practice is questionable to human rights lawyers and advocates.
system: Road to a life of crime
Lawyer Eric Henry
Joseph Mallonga said that children should not enter the criminal justice
system. Once the child is arrested, he is already “contaminated” for life.
Child abuses during arrest and detention has been documented by a number
of NGOs and volunteer lawyers. These abuses further aggravate the feelings
of self-doubt, loneliness, confusion, and low self-esteem among these
that in exposing these already vulnerable children to this system develop
“tunnel vision” among CICL. These children already see themselves as
criminals and therefore the only road that is available to them is a life
of a criminal. ROR helps but comes too late for the children already
traumatized by the arrest and detention.
Mallonga said, is to overhaul the criminal justice for children and,
“supplant it with a rights-oriented (child’s rights) system.”
As one social worker
said, as long as there is poverty and the realities of the society he once
belonged to remained cruel, the life of a former CICL is never certain. As
long as there is poverty and the society is not sensitive to the rights of
the child, there will always be a child who will have a brush with the
Playground Behind Bars
First of four-part series
Time in the Company of Hardened Criminals
Second of four parts
on Death Row and the Child-unfriendly Justice System
Third of four parts
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