Situational Analysis on Children in Conflict with the Law and the Juvenile Justice System Atty. Sedfrey Candelaria; Atty. Aleli Domingo; Amanda Roselle Abrera; Geo Carbonell; Ma. Victoria Cardona and Tricia Oco
The Philippine Senate, through Resolution No. 109 dated July 20, 1990 ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) paving the way for the Convention’s implementation at the domestic level. This afforded children the set of protective rights related to the juvenile justice system under Articles 37, 39, and 40. The Philippine Government submitted its compliance commentaries on these provisions in its Initial Report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1993. In response, the CRC committee submitted the following principal concerns:
• need for national legislation to conform with the convention • need for efficient mechanisms to monitor the situation of these children in conflict with the law
• need for compatibility of the present juvenile justice system to the principles and provisions of the convention and other international standards
The development of a situational analysis on children in conflict with the law and the juvenile justice system is deemed necessary to guide policy-makers in implementing effective programs and procedures to protect the rights of the child.
Purpose of the Research
Last May 7, 1997, a consultative meeting was conducted, with representatives from the five pillars of criminal justice: law enforcement, prosecution, courts, correction and the community.
The main purpose was to gather more data and to validate initial observations and analysis on the status of juvenile justice administration in the Philippines. The objectives of the research were therefore constituted as follows:
• To analyze data and existing studies on children in conflict with the law;
• To assess the current situation of the administration of juvenile justice in light of the principles and relevant provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (e.g. Articles 37, 39 and 40); and • To recommend practical and achievable steps toward reforming the juvenile justice system.
The research team reviewed the data covering 1993 to 1997 on various aspects of the juvenile justice process. This was derived from existing studies, surveys or reports prepared by a number of groups concerned with children in conflict with the law. These materials were supplemented by actual interviews and responses to questionnaires sent to selected institutional respondents. A series of dialogues with judges of designated courts for children’s cases were also conducted from April to June 1997.
The data reveals that while there are Philippine laws, rules and regulations applicable to children in conflict with the law, prosecution and trial procedures in general do not make distinctions between adult and youthful offenders facing charges before the courts.
As regards the profile of the Filipino child in conflict with the law, findings show that the youthful offender is: usually male; between the ages of fourteen (14) to seventeen (17) years; an elementary graduate; a middle child from a low-income family with four (4) to six (6) members; charged with property related crimes (robbery and theft); and, exposed to drugs or gang influence.
The experience of a number of youthful offenders with the various stages of the juvenile justice process reveals occasional neglect and insensitivity by duty holders.
The following is a brief analysis of the three sub-sections pertaining to the legal framework and processes, institutional framework, and the narrative and statistical report. It will underscore the strengths as well the gaps of the Philippine juvenile justice system as these affect the rights of children in conflict with the law.
The discussion of the Philippine legal framework and processes tend to confirm the state of legislative reform in this country, particularly in regard to juvenile justice, as observed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. It further affirms that while there are laws protecting the rights of children in conflict with the law, Philippine legislators have yet to seriously consider reviewing existing laws.
In terms of priority, existing jurisdiction of designated courts over juvenile and domestic relations cases, including cases of youthful offenders, needs to be enhanced by passing legislation on the creation of child and family courts. In line with this reorganization, procedural rules applicable to these courts will be necessary. Therefore, findings of this report on the conduct of court proceedings involving children clearly support:
• a move towards restructuring the jurisdiction of some lower courts ;
• a set of procedural rules in the handling of children’s cases; and
a set of clear-cut criteria for appointment of judges to a specialized child and family court.
Various surveys and studies reveal an interesting finding on the average age of youthful offenders to be mostly male and between fourteen (14) andmseventeen (17) years of age. Indeed, this is rather significant in light of the observation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child that Philippine substantive law on the age of penal responsibility is quite low (below nine (9) years). Socio-cultural factors, however, must be closely considered when reviewing the present standard contained in our penal laws and the Child and Youth Welfare Code.
Other substantive rights, such as, the constitutional guarantees of an accused are adequately covered by existing laws. The application and practice of these rights in favor of children facing the justice system do not seem to be monitored effectively by the key institutions of the juvenile justice system. An example is the lack of quantitative and qualitative data from the enforcement and judicial sectors concerning compliance with the constitutional and CRC standards on the rights of the youthful offenders at the apprehension, investigation, and trial stages.
Selected incidents of violations of the rights of some children arrested, investigated and tried before the courts, as narrated in this report, tend to suggest that there may be more of these incidents in practice occurring at various stages of the juvenile justice process. Non-observance of the CRC standards may be attributed to inadequate training and lack of sensitivity of some law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and even judges in handling of cases of children in conflict with the law.
Given the limits of the existing procedural system dealing with youthful offenders, police, prosecutors and judges have sufficient discretion occasionally to ensure that the procedural laws aim at diversion measures rather than passively allow an investigation or judicial process to proceed. It has been emphasized in the said report that every measure be taken to avoid placing the child within the often stressful environment of litigation. Sometimes, this is even aggravated by the protracted delays in the disposition of cases contrary to conventional standards of speedy justice.
A more disturbing reality is the unfortunate condition faced by most detained and sentenced youthful offenders in public jails and similar institutions. Despite clearly stated guidelines, laws and policies regarding the treatment of detained and sentenced juveniles, there exists a startling disregard for a most basic standard. Such is the segregation of children from adult offenders inside detention centers or jails.
This continues to stand out as a sore thumb in our review of existing practices on this issue. The objectives of the juvenile justice system could easily be eroded by this situation of youth offenders in detention or those serving sentence. Neither do most physical facilities and development opportunities for detained or sentenced children adequately meet the standards set by the CRC and related U.N. guidelines. The budget allocated by the government for food and other basic necessities hardly promotes the standard to meet all the requirements of health and human dignity.
Rehabilitation programs through (non-institutional) community-based services are being resorted to more often by DSWD. This is a move towards the right direction. However, support services are needed in the form of financial assistance, education, and employment for the returning youthful offender.
One of the remarkable contributions of the CRC to the issue of juvenile justice is the emphasis made on the impact of societal conditions on the growth and development of a child. Several factors contribute to a child’s transformation either into an accomplished member of society or one who finds himself or herself in conflict with the law.
Within the context of duties and responsibilities, it may be argued that those with the primary right and duty in the rearing of a child deserve the unqualified support of the State authorities and institutions through the creation of an environment conducive to the wholesome development of a child.
This research has confirmed that the situation of children in conflict with the law was better understood when viewed not only within the limited context of the commission of the crime itself. Instead, it focused more directly on the failure of some duty-holders to provide for an environment that can promote the fullest potential of a child. A convergence of circumstances more often places the child in a situation leading to the commission of a crime. A dysfunctional family relationship, poverty or peer influence create conditions which may push the youth towards conflict with the law.
In the Philippine juvenile justice system, the child generally enjoys guarantees distinguishable from adults. However, the judicial process itself, consisting of the criminal procedure and the rules of admissibility of evidence, does not provide an exclusive mode of conducing trial. The juveniles, as accused before courts of general jurisdiction, are designated to a juvenile and domestic relations court. There is a general impression that the revival of exclusive child and family courts may be contribute towards effective management of cases of youthful offenders.
The experience of some Filipino youthful offenders with the justice system has been characterized occasionally with neglect and insensitivity by a number of judges, prosecutors and private lawyers, notwithstanding the well-entrenched judicial guarantees. This is not to overlook, however, the recent efforts of inter-agency task forces aimed at raising awareness of the legal profession on the conditions of children in conflict with the law.
Society’s attitude towards returning youthful offenders or those in community-based rehabilitation programs is crucial in successfully reintegrating these children. The present report underscores the vulnerability of those youthful offenders staying in “closed” institutions and prisons.
After careful analysis and investigation of the situation of children in conflict with the law and realizing the many gaps of the Philippine juvenile justice system, the following recommendations were drawn:
• Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, court social welfare officers, public attorneys and legal aid groups should be given orientation seminars on international human rights instruments and child-related laws with emphasis on juvenile justice
• Government agencies and institutions engaged in defending youthful offenders should coordinate their efforts in providing protection to these children by establishing a common monitoring system covering the various stages of the juvenile justice system process.
• Specialized juvenile and domestic relations courts should be created.
• Support programs for streetchildren and other similarly vulnerable children should be increased as preventive measures.
• More facilities exclusively for children who are detained and sentenced should be constructed to prevent mingling with adult offenders.
• Community awareness of and involvement in non-institutional rehabilitation programs and services should be enhanced.
• Non-governmental organizations engaged in multi-disciplinary outreach programs with children in conflict with the law should form a network to maximize extension of assistance of these children.
• A comprehensive review of existing laws and procedures on juvenile justice in light of the CRC and other international standard-setting instruments affecting children in conflict with the law should be undertaken for purposes of law reform.