“There is no such thing as a bad boy,” this quote from Stephanie Precourt, writer, blogger and mother of four children serves as a reminder that children are not born bad, rather, they are shaped by the way their parents brought them up and by the environment they grew up in.

This is especially true for children in conflict with the law (CICL), they are most often victims of circumstances and the unfortunate events in their lives force them to commit offenses.

One such child is Harold (not his real name),  a former CICL who was brought to the Regional Rehabilitation Center for Youth (RRCY) in Iloilo City.  RRCY is  a DSWD-managed center  for youth offenders.

Under the steady guidance of social workers, Harold, now 17 years old, flourished and discovered his talent for writing. Recently, he was adjudged as one of the top three winners in the professional category in the “Write On Writing Competition” organized by the Peace Corps volunteers in the Philippines.

“It was one of the best stories that I have seen from a 17-year-old,” said  Bobby Pappas, a US Peace Corps volunteer.

The competition sought to build creative writing skills, foster new writers, teach the youth on how to be creative in writing; provide avenues for self-expression; as well as showcase the participants' writing skills.

Asked how he feels about his winning, Harold said, “It made me happy. I have proven that a CICL can also achieve something.”

He was enrolled by RRCY staff at the Alternative Learning System (ALS) so that he can continue his studies.

Interventions

To prepare the RRCY residents for a productive life once reintegrated with their families and communities, the center provides livelihood and skills training. For instance, at the RRCY, the boys learn how to make stone pots.

Through this livelihood project, the boys earn enough and some are even able to send money to their families. The stone pots crafted by the RRCY residents have been showcased in various  fairs, like the Guimaras Manggahan Festival and during the DSWD Anniversary celebration.

The center also has a showroom where the products of the residents are displayed.

“Aside from livelihood skills training, RRCY also employed music and dance therapy for the boys as part of their rehabilitation process, which has been proven to be effective,” stated Susan Mogato, center head.

She proudly added that the group won in the provincial level in a recent dance competition.

“They also organized a band at the center,” she said.

Mogato also revealed that the RRCY was recently conferred as a Center of Excellence. The center has been accredited by the Standards Bureau of the DSWD Central Office.

Factors to be considered as a center of excellence include the condition of facilities, case management and implementation of programs and services.

RRCY is a residential facility for children in conflict with the law aged 15 -17, which provides the   residents a home-like atmosphere for their speedy rehabilitation.

No to lowering of MARC

Once again, the DSWD expressed its opposition against the lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR).

Success stories of rehabilitated CICL, like that of Harold, continue to be a factor on why the DSWD remains adamant against the proposal to lower the MACR.

“We do not support moves to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility. What we want are better support services for Filipino children, including the enforcement of laws that protect and ensure their rights to education.  We want a holistic approach to the implementation of laws protecting children. We want to protect them, not criminalize them. A society that genuinely cares for children will pour bigger allocations to programs that give children what they need to learn, be healthy, be intelligent, creative, compassionate and socially aware,” DSWD Undersecretary for Protective Services Hope V. Hervilla said.

“Lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility has never resulted in lower crime rates. The Philippine experience, and the experience of other countries attest to this fact,” she added.

“There is a need to distinguish between making children responsible for their actions, and criminalizing them.  RA 9344 makes children responsible without making them criminal and holds them accountable in entirely non-punitive, welfare-based, and education-oriented measures," Sec. Taguiwalo also said.

She also explained that rehabilitation programs implemented by DSWD centers for CICL are also being enhanced to become more responsive and effective, thereby, preventing repeat offenders.

The Secretary also cited  the need to build more Bahay Pag-Asa (BPA) especially in the regions with the highest number of CICLs. There are currently 36 operational BPAs nationwide. Bahay Pag-asa is a 24-hour child caring institution established, funded and managed by local government units and licensed and/or accredited non-government organizations providing short-term residential care for CICLS.

As mandated by RA 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA), BPAs shall be constructed in 81 provinces and 33 highly urbanized cities.

Current  data on CICL

Statistics from the Juvenile Justice  and Welfare  Council (JJWC) indicated that the number of CICLs in the country are decreasing, from 5,937 in 2013 to 4,287 as of June 2016.

Meanwhile, data from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) showed  that there are currently 210 CICLs in their facilities. BJMP statistics also revealed that Region XII has the most number of CICLs (80) currently detained in their facilities. (DSWD)