Suffer the little children

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“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” — Novelist James Baldwin

Let’s begin with the fact that child crimes are real. And if we’re not careful, this could explode into a full-blown crisis.

From 2013 to 2014, close to 5,000 children in England, under 10, had reportedly committed crimes ranging from rape to arson. According to the 2016 report by The Express, the youngest was five (Caroline Wheeler, “Freedom of information request reveals worrying numbers of children involved in crime,” The Express, 13 March 2016).

In another report by the BBC in Aug. 2018, “It costs £324,000 per year to keep a young person in custody” (Ali Gordon, “More than 1,000 children convicted of crimes in five years,” BBC News, 01 Aug. 2018).

On July 11, 2016, the BusinessMirror published a three-part special report I wrote on child crime with very disturbing figures. Quoting UNICEF: “‘The Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) reported that more than 52,000 Filipino children from 1995 to 2000 were ‘in conflict with the law.’ Data from social-welfare said that, from 2001 to 2010, close to 64,000 offenders were detained by the government, the highest being in Western Visayas, the National Capital Region and Region 11, or the Davao region, throughout the said period” (Joel Pablo Salud, “Children on the run: A closer look at child crime: Part II,” in The BusinessMirror, 11 July 2016).

Today, these crimes persist with alarming regularity, or so this administration claims. As a response, the current Congress under Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had approved the bill lowering the age of criminal liability from 15 to nine.

Based on a Pulse Asia survey, 55% of Filipinos do not agree with the said bill.

Regardless of provisions which prohibit the detention of “children in conflict with the law” with hardened criminals, still there is the question of our capacity to rehabilitate them in ways that our national budget, to say little of competent personnel, would allow.

Does the administration have enough doctors, nurses and counsellors to oversee the rehabilitation efforts? Are they trained for such an effort? Are our facilities conducive to treatment and healing?

What about the child’s security? Let’s admit it: Living life with fellow juveniles is not exactly conducive to rehabilitation. Appalling conditions in our rehabilitation centers may prove detrimental to the overall health and condition of the child.

An even better question: Are the children of government officials subject to this same law, should it pass into law, or are they exempted? If a 10-year-old child of a congressman or senator commits a crime, would this same child face the same rehabilitation process prescribed in the law? I doubt it.

And if these children are exempted for whatever reason their rich families may present, then why subject the children of the poor to such dubious conditions? Is this another one of those anti-poor laws the government is so quick to settle in the congressional halls? The poor have no way of skirting this.

There are a million and one questions this administration needs to answer. I highly doubt if they discussed every single question.

Besides, there is something sinister about a government hellbent on punishing nine-year-olds but empty of the political will to incarcerate adult felons.

The 2017 Global Impunity Index released by Universidad De Las Americas in Mexico pegs the Philippines as Number One in impunity at 75.6 points, higher overall than India (70.94), Cameroon (69.39), Mexico (69.21), Peru (69.04), Venezuela (67.24), Brazil (66.72), Colombia (66.67), Nicaragua (66.34), Russia (64.49), Paraguay (65.38), Honduras (65.04) and El Salvador (65.03).

If I were to go by what the novelist James Baldwin said, that “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them,” then I guess society in general would have to do some serious introspection.

A family of five or six, living in the poorest section of the city or countryside, and whose parents straddle between two to three jobs to make ends meet, will have no way of spending the time demanded by a child’s growing up years with that child.

The child would sooner grow up orphaned of the wisdom and guidance of his or her parents, assuming the parents possess the wisdom to begin with. If not, then these kids, as expected, will look for guidance elsewhere. Often, this guidance comes from shady personalities who’d take advantage of the innocence of the child.

Without the benefit of close parental supervision, the child, therefore, imitates the qualities and mindset of his or her “mentor,” living the life demanded by the streets. Only on rare occasions do parents find out, and often much too late: The child is already in conflict with the law and on the run.

And what of abuse in the home by extremely abusive parents or guardians? Here’s the other extreme. Regional Council for the Welfare of Children (RCWC) focal person and DSWD Central Visayas social welfare officer Maricel Madamba said last Nov. 2018 that “Three in five children experience physical violence, with more than half of this happening at home and most common cases of violence at home are corporal punishment committed by parents and siblings.”

A report also added that, “Three in five children experienced psychological violence in the forms of verbal abuse, threats or neglect.” Children of overseas Filipino workers, left to the care of “yayas” and members of the family, are vulnerable to these kinds of abuse (Minerva BC Newman, “Police List Top Five Crimes Committed Against Children,” The Manila Bulletin, 18 Nov. 2018).

Needless to say, abuse begets abuse. How many neglected and abused children would then turn to a life of crime? Your guess is as good as mine.

The same may be said of wealthy families. Wealthy families too busy with capitalist ventures, leaving the child in the care of equally rich friends, are vulnerable to having their son or daughter live a life of careless abandon. I personally have witnessed many such cases of children of rich families breaking the law and getting away scot-free.

These rich but restless children reportedly get away with such crimes as incest, theft, carnapping, drug addiction, and even murder. Every so often these cases are swept under the rug to protect the rich family’s reputation; only a handful faced the law.

The power structure of our society is so disproportionate, so favors the high and mighty, that stopping the said bill may just be our ticket to saving our children from possible abuse of authority, to say nothing of continuing injustice.

Our children are bombarded daily by the examples adults show, and with these fueling the actions most children do, if not by way of peer pressure, they are caught in a cycle of crime.

There are more humane ways of dealing with this problem of child crime than passing a law which criminalizes not only a child’s actions, but his ignorance, if not altogether his innocence.

While I wouldn’t blame parents so easily for the attitudes of their children, as there are numerous factors to consider, I still hold to the belief that sole responsibility falls on the shoulders of their families.

Perhaps it’s high time we rethink our ideas of rehabilitating the child in conflict with the law. Perhaps going back to basics may prove beneficial in the end: Reassuring the parents of the untiring support of government and society to make the home—and our streets—a safe and happy place.

As a good example to children, this government can start by ending the drug war and jailing the corrupt. Says the poet Oscar Wilde: “The best way to make children good is to make them happy.”

No child can be happy with the murders of members of his or her family. G



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