Save the child

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Sunday, August 17, 2014


REPUBLIC Act 9344, otherwise known as the Juvenile Justice & Welfare Act (amended by RA 10630), exempts a child, 15 years of age and below from criminal liability. A child above 15 but below 18 years of age is also exempt from criminal liability unless he or she acts in discernment in the commission of a crime.

This week, a 14-year old girl hogged the headlines when she was caught peddling prohibited drugs. In her possession was found P6M worth of shabu. Once more, the clamor to review, amend or even abolish the Juvenile Justice & Welfare Act has emerged.

I might be the lone voice here but I believe in the Juvenile Justice & Welfare Act.

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I am not arguing that a child of 15 cannot commit a crime. But I am arguing that the culpability of a child of 15 should be mitigated by the fact that one’s brain at that age is not yet fully developed and that such development can be hampered by a variety of factors beyond the child’s control.

Neuro science now tells us that the human brain does not reach full maturity until at least the mid-20s. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) research has shown that the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for regulating behavior and inhibiting impulses, continues to develop until the age of 25.

These emerging studies are now challenging and changing public policy.
It is difficult to say if an anatomically immature brain necessarily results in immature behavior because adolescent behavior is influenced by many factors from parenting to education to nutrition to culture.

Demographics as well as one’s experiences in life also influence behavior. Traumatic events like abuse, neglect and exposure to violence as well as substance abuse can severely hamper brain development.

Yes, a child of 15 can steal, kill, rape, sell drugs for a living but the more important question is, how does a child of 15 arrive at this tragic point in her life? A child does not become a monster overnight. Is the child a criminal? Or is she a victim as well?

The legendary Gold Meir, Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1973, was once asked to impose a curfew on women to end a spate of rapes. Meir eloquently replied that since it was the men who were attacking women, if there was to be a curfew, it should be the men who should stay home.

I understand the public’s growing despondence over rising criminality but let’s stop barking at the wrong tree. The children are not the criminals; they are the victims. We can’t curb criminality by putting our children in jail. We stop criminality by putting the real criminals in jail—the adults who victimize minors and utilize them for their criminal activities.

A child of 14 doesn’t need a jail cell. She needs a loving and stable home. Children need to be loved, not locked up. If we want to keep our children off the streets, we need to give them a reason to come home. If we want to save the children, we need to be better parents.

Has the child really committed a crime against society? Or has society committed a crime against the child in conflict with the law? When in doubt, save the child.

***

(email: sunstarcebucolumnist@yahoo.com, twitter: http://twitter.com/melanietlim)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 17, 2014.

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