It is very easy to make offenders out of children. Just place them in situations where they will not be able to obtain their basic needs for food, water, shelter, health care, and education. Then shred them of their rights to develop their innate skills and strip them of opportunities to maintain a life of dignity so that they will become untrained and become jobless adults. Dump them in circumstances where there is no way out from hopelessness and impoverishment. Presto! You’ve got a criminal in the making!

In this country, where the predicaments of the poor have never been properly addressed, many towns and cities have become breeding grounds for youth offenders. Although some of these children have ascended from the putrid potholes they have found themselves in, thousands of others have not been successful in escaping the trap and are compelled to break the law, mainly to survive. This is why we constantly watch news  on TV or hear on the radio or read despicable news stories from newspapers of children committing all sorts of thefts, burglary, and of selling illegal drugs.

Presently, poverty is no longer considered the reason on why children are snatching bags, pick-pocketing pedestrians, thieving inside houses, vending shabu, and committing all kinds of crimes that were once committed only by adult reprobates and toughened outlaws. Poverty is the most convenient reason why they do what they do, but it has become a secondary cause.

The biggest reason is that these children are now AWARE that they cannot be imprisoned because of their age. Not just them, but their syndicate handlers also know that the farthest destination for these children is a DSWD office/safe house.

Thanks to RA 9344, “thanks” to Human Rights advocates, “thanks” to Children’s Rights campaigners, and “thanks” to callous parents — adult criminals and hooligans now have their “errand boys/girls” who cannot be locked up by law and will not be held accountable for the wrongs they have committed.

I do not wish to critique RA 9344, Human Rights people or to those individuals who always fight for children’s rights. I’m sure they only have the children’s best interests at heart.

However, there are things that may be true before but are no longer true today, and because times are different, we need to do things differently to be receptive of the times, to save futures and lives. As the expression goes, “desperate times call for desperate measures.”

My point: We’ve been hearing about the debates in Congress and in the Senate about the lowering of the age of criminal liability, right? Section 6 of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, otherwise known as RA 9344 stipulates that “A child 15 years of age or under at the time of the commission of the offense shall be exempt from criminal liability.”

In simple terms, it says that those who commit crimes and are 15 years of age or younger, cannot be put to prison. Adult criminals are very much aware of this and are using the law to further perpetrate their wickedness. Similarly, children also have knowledge of this law which makes them very confident that if caught, all they would get is either a reprimand, a lecture and a short stay inside a DSWD safe house or office.

Legislators are divided on the issue. Some want the age of criminal responsibility lowered while others say it is a violation of children’s rights.

I have two unsolicited suggestions regarding the issue. First, scrap Sec. 6 of RA 9344 because it will be used forever and ever by unscrupulous individuals. Second, jail parents of children who come in conflict with the law. They should be the ones who should be punished and not the children.

Of course, I am not saying that children who have committed crimes can go “scot free” and roam around society as if nothing has happened.

However, they should not be incarcerated and neither should they be inside a DSWD office to be lectured. There must be a separate place for these children, some sort of a community where they can enjoy their childhood, get hold of their inherent rights, get educated, and be given a second shot at life.

I want irresponsible and callous parents to be jailed to serve as a showcase to other parents who intend to use their children for their own enrichment. Let’s face it, many of these children who commit crimes have been pushed, and encouraged to do so by their parents. If these parents cannot perform their duties or do not want to carry out their obligations to the best of their abilities, then there is no reason why their children should be with them.

What does the Bible say to parents regarding their responsibilities? In 2 Corinthians 12:14 and 1 Timothy 5:8, it says to provide for your children; in Psalm 78:5, it says to instruct children in righteousness; in Genesis 18:19, to set a good example; in Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21, to govern with kindness; and in Proverbs 29:17, to discipline their children.

Have parents of children in conflict with the law done these things?

Or they have done the opposite?

Written by Gemma Minda Iso

Gemma Minda Iso, a freelance writer for over 12 years, has published one book and is about to launch her second. She does project-based in-depth research works for foreign clients, writes a column for a local newspaper and speeches for government officials and private company executives. Currently, she dabbles with her events management start-up and is kept busy with her Toastmasters International-related activities.

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