Balay, CLRDC and DIGNITY project supports the implementation of the Juvenile Justice law
A 17-year old youth who works as a part-time tricycle driver was waiting in the tricycle line in Barangay 176 Bagong Silang (“new birth”), a relocation site for evicted informal settlers in Manila when three passengers boarded his tricycle. The tricycle was stopped by police at a checkpoint and the three passengers were found to be in possession of drugs. All four of them, including the 17-year old driver were brought to the police precinct and placed under arrest.
After being alerted about her son’s arrest by another tricycle driver, the mother mobilized the local barangay social welfare officer and staff from the NGO Balay Rehabilitation Center, who accompanied her to the precinct. The policemen were informed that the boy was a minor, but still did not allow them access to the child, saying that he would be charged with an offence since he was the driver of the tricycle. The boy was detained at the precinct overnight and only allowed to return home the afternoon of the following day with no charges being filed against him. The boy was traumatized by the experience.
According to the provisions of the Philippines Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 as amended, from the moment a child (a person below the age of 18) is taken into custody but no later than eight hours after apprehension, law enforcement officials are obliged to turn over custody of the child to the Social Welfare and Development Officer or other accredited NGOs, and notify the child’s apprehension. The social welfare and development officer must explain to the child and the child’s parents or guardians the consequences of the child’s act with a view towards counseling and rehabilitation, and diversion from the criminal justice system. Deprivation of liberty of a child, including in police custody, should be for the minimum necessary period and limited to exceptional cases only.
The project ‘Following the Child: Integrated protection of children along their pathway through the juvenile justice and social welfare system in the Philippines’ implemented by Balay Rehabilitation Center and Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC) together with DIGNITY the Danish Institute Against Torture, aims to support juvenile justice and social welfare stakeholders to ensure that the provisions of the law are fulfilled.
This case is illustrative of what happens to many children at risk and children in conflict with the law in Barangay 176 Bagong Silang and elsewhere in the Philippines. The local authorities in barangay Bagong Silang are grappling with the high number of child offenders. Records from the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC) indicate that it attended to 515 cases of children in conflict with the law in Bagong Silang in 2019. Many of these children are from impoverished backgrounds and have suffered a history of neglect and violence.
The case highlights the crucial importance of communication and effective coordination between the different instances charged with the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. Working with all key stakeholders in the community – parents, children and youth, law enforcement, local barangay authorities and Bahay Pag-Asa – the project aims to support a more effective juvenile justice system that is better at protecting children at their point of contact with law enforcers, their encounter with juvenile justice institutions and actors, and builds their ability to support rehabilitation and reintegration in the community.
In the case of this child, the close relationship that Balay Rehabilitation Center has established with the local social welfare office made it possible to mobilize a social welfare officer to accompany the parent to the police station. Despite these efforts however, the child’s experience at the hands of the police did not proceed in accordance with the requirements of the law.
An important related development in Barangay 176 Bagong Silang is the passing in March 2021 of a Diversion Ordinance. The ordinance is meant to ensure that in victimless crimes where a child in conflict with the law is charged with an offence carrying a penalty of not more than six years imprisonment, the child shall be offered an individualized community-based program through the barangay diversion committee. Based on the principle of restorative justice, it provides that children in conflict with the law are dealt with in a manner that emphasizes their reintegration and rehabilitation into their family and community without resorting to formal court proceedings and detention.
Rowena Legaspi, Executive Director of CLRDC says: “The enactment of the Barangay Ordinance creating the Diversion Committee is a significant milestone in the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 as amended. This has been the mandate of JJWA and barangay 176 has been the first barangay in Caloocan City (composed of 188 barangays) to comply with this. Putting it into ordinance, rather than a mere barangay resolution, gives structure and teeth to the work of the Barangay Diversion committee, that even the future barangay leadership could enforce. This would benefit a lot of children who are qualified to undergo a Barangay Diversion program, a valuable mechanism in the prevention of torture as the Barangay Diversion program provides institutional care alternative to detention of children.”