Social Justice for All: Poverty, broken families and children in conflict with the law
Manila is a fast growing, intense metropolis where the poor, and especially the children of the poor, are made to fend for themselves in fierce competition for resources. While the ideology of family is strong, families are also under enormous pressure.
Many families manage despite these pressures, but children are often at the losing end. Children face enormous challenges of poverty, including being subjected to brutal forms of policing and disciplining while they labour to survive. While there are protective measures put in place, not least emanating from The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children, their effects are often limited and sometimes counter-productive.
Michael is a 14-year-old boy from an urban poor community in one of the cities in Metro Manila. Two years ago, he was taken to the city's government-managed Children in Conflict with the Law Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines by a police patrol looking for suspects of petty crimes in an area where Michael had found sanctuary for the night. In line with the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, Michael could not be put in jail along with adults. He was subsequently taken to the youth center where he was assaulted by his peers and badly treated by the guardian. While shocking, the violence was not new to Michael, as violence has always been a part of his life.
When he was twelve years old Michael ran away from home to escape the violence from his stepfather, who saw Michael as yet another mouth to feed. He lived on the streets, became part of a gang and became involved in petty crime and gang wars. Violence was instilled in him at a very young age at home, and it continued once he was on the streets. Even at the center, where he was supposed to have been safe, violence found him.
The case of Michael mirrors many poor children in blighted urban poor areas in the Philippines. Violence is intimately connected to intergenerational poverty in families with few skills and development opportunities. This makes for strong links between poverty, disregard for children's social and economic rights, and violence such as child abuse and torture; most of the children whoa re tortured or ill-treated by the police are street children or children from broken families. Most of the crimes they commit are petty crimes or 'need' crimes such as theft, in other words, to cover their basic needs when their families cannot. Capital crimes (e.g. rape and murder) committed by children often happen through peer pressure, when they end up in gangs or are used as drug dealers.
In Michael's case, we see how issues of development, human rights and violence are intimately entangled in poor, urban neighbourhoods. Hence, rather than focusing in one or the other, there is a need to address the problems as one structure and target authorities, families and neigbourhoods with rehabilitative psycho-social interventions, service delivery (for instance job training and education) and legal approaches and avenues to address systemic abuse.
Position Paper: Social Justice for All, Linking human rights, development and violence in the city; contributing to safer cities (2017) Dignity - Danish Institute Against Torture
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