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PIA Press Release
2006/10/08

Social workers call for media restraint in kid criminal reporting

by Rey Anthony Chiu

Tagbilaran City (8 October) -- SOCIAL workers and children’s rights advocates jointly call the media to exercise restraint in reporting cases of children in conflict with the law (CICL) at the weekly Kapihan sa PIA last week.

“Crime offenders as they are, the state still has the responsibility to protect the best interests of the child through measures ensuring the observance of international standards of child protection, right to assistance, proper care and nutrition and special protection from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to their development,” both sectors press.

“With this in mind, reporting cases involving CICL should be consistent with the promotion of the child’s dignity and worth, accounting the child’s age and desirability of promoting his reintegration,” Lawnet volunteer lawyer Gertrude Biliran urges.

The law also says the state shall ensure that children are dealt with appropriately by providing them a variety of disposition measures: care, guidance and supervision orders, counseling, probation, foster care, education and vocational training programs and other alternatives to institutional care, the least of them is detention.

“Victims of circumstances and neglect, some children coming from broken if not impoverished families have started to adopt the life in a mad rat scramble, some literally clawing to get food to fill their stomachs. This situation would sound unfair if we throw them into the jails for committing a crime the society and their families could ably help to rehabilitate them, said social workers in a random telephone survey conducted by PIA.

In this line, reporters should make it a point to religiously hide the identity of the child involved, refrain from citing references that could by analysis point to the offender or family otherwise the law applies, Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Clavel Saycon added during the forum broadcast over a local radio station.

Violations of the provision may mean P20T to P40T penalty and imprisonment from 8-10 years, the law provides.

In fact, hearing cases of these children still remains confidential, and records or police blotters are kept separate from the usual bulk of offenders just to keep the identities, Biliran shared.

While in conflict with the law, the initial contact with these children would prove to be an indelible mark that causes a trauma that may determine their future, Saycon insists.

Joining her in the government advocacy, both volunteers hoisted the call for restraint amidst the widening consciousness campaigns for the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (RA 9344).

The new juvenile justice and welfare system refers to a system dealing with children at risk and children in conflict with the law, which provides for child-appropriate proceedings, including programs and services for prevention, diversion, rehabilitation, reintegration and aftercare to ensure their normal growth and development.

The law, which President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed in May of this year effects special treatment to be given to young offenders or those below the age of maturity.

Also part of the provisions of the law mandate that enforcement authorities when accosting a suspected criminal who is presumed to be a minor should refrain from showing instruments of restrain, handcuffs, fire-arms or night sticks, things that may be construed as offensive, unless otherwise warranted.

After accosting, the authority should determine the offender’s age and turn him over to the DSWD for determination if the child acted with discernment.

From there, the offender is either recommended for diversion activities to be implemented by the DSWD in coordination with the parents and the community in line with restorative justice.

Diversion, lawyer Biliran explains refers to an alternative, child-appropriate process of determining the responsibility and treatment of a child in conflict with the law on the basis of his social, cultural, economic, psychological or educational background without resorting to formal court proceedings.

The campaign met stiff criticisms from sectors here after people accused it of being irrational and threatening the foundations of the society by giving all the available escape for kids who would ultimately grow into hardcore criminals.

Even then, the government authorities assure the Boholanos that the move has passed through careful scrutiny by legal researchers and non-government organizations into the intricacies of helping young offenders rejoin the mainstream of society.

Definitely the jail offers no hope and inspiration for the kids, another community organizer from Feed the Children reacted when asked for comment.

The government veered into the new concept and the new law after the media exposed children offenders consuming a space in the country’s often jam-packed jails.

Putting young offenders together with hardened criminals in the same cells is not the intent of the law, but beset with budget restraints and the growing number of crimes, we are but forced to put them in, confessed an unnamed jail guard over national television. (PIA) [top]

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