Thursday, 03 February 2011 14:27
Almost as soon as it became a law in 2006, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act has been criticized by ranking police officials and lawyers as flawed and counterproductive. The Act decriminalizes all offenses committed by children 15 years old and under and only prescribes the rehabilitation by the Department of Social Welfare and Development or by local governments of youth offenders aged 16 to 18 years old, forbidding incarceration, prior to their return to their families.
For one, the law does not allocate funding for the offenders’ reform, and LGUs are left with the willy-nilly discretion on how to approach or handle the task. It was only quite recently that the Zamboanga City government established such a rehabilitation center. It was inaugurated by Interior Secretary Jess Robredo, who himself has joined the present chorus calling for the amendment of the juvenile law.
Senator Francis Pangilinan has been open to an amendment but not the repeal of law, which he authored.
Officers of the law say that more than half of crimes are now being committed by 18 and under youths. Since they cannot be charged, they are instead released back into the system. Sen. Pangilinan said no law is perfect and has blamed crime syndicates for exploiting the Act by utilizing youths in the commission of crimes.
One of the ugliest sights to residents and visitors alike in Zamboanga is the huge number of street children and beggars roaming around the city’s downtown area. Street children are regularly apprehended for snatching and theft, some are caught sniffing hallucinogens. Beggars here, in spite of the local anti-mendicancy ordinance, are known to be run by syndicates.
These sidewalk colonies of ragged, unsightly street kids and beggars are not only a problem for the city’s tourism plan, which City Hall has announced would be its priority this year. The children and beggars are a peace and order problem for the community, too, now and in the future. They are a problem unto themselves – what kind of future (not to mention their present) will these children and beggars have with the kind of dangerous values they pick up from their terrible way of life?
Sen. Pangilinan’s law is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease. But that’s because the disease is clearly systemic, beyond the letter of any law and very much at the mercy and within the spirit of our social conscience and justice. (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)
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