CHILDREN in conflict with the law are undeniably called by many as criminals. People see these children as unpleasant, fearsome, and hopeless. Their crimes are webbed with their being and to condemn is the only way to get rid of them.
According to the 2008 Philippine National Police Report, the number of persons above 15 but below 18 who are accused of committing crimes reached 2,158. The crimes committed include theft, robbery, substance abuse, rape, homicide, and murder.
Young offenders are thus regarded as outcasts, many forgetting that despite the gravity of their crimes, there still throbs the heart of a child within them.
There are a few, however, whose hearts beat at well for the lost child. Among them is Mr. Dennis Mabayao who founded the Balay Sa Adunay Pangandoy (BSAP) Incorporated (Home of those who have dreams) in Panacan, Davao City on November 3, 2004.
"When I went out of the seminary, I regularly visit the city jail and rehabilitation center. I came to think, why not build a 'half-way home' for these children before reintegrating them to the community?" he said.
BSAP, built as a home setting, now hosts eight children although it can accommodate upto 14 since its design is for a big Filipino family.
"We are one family. This is my family and I want these children to graduate college, regain self-worth and realize that God is the source of their lives," he shared.
BSAP has the mission to offer a home, which is conducive to learning, to journey with the juveniles who are willing to make positive changes in their lives, to impart good Christian values and to encourage them in the pursuit of their ambitions through formal education.
These children study through sponsorship and scholarship programs. They are provided with life skills training through a Pet and Plants Livelihood Project.
They are given spiritual and human formation through their everyday prayers and lectures. They also read during the Mass and sing as a choir in the Davao Mental Hospital.
Mabayao finds it very meaningful that God is using him as a channel of love.
"The challenge comes in the consistency of my presence. Some of the staff has given up. I have to commit myself to these children and even stop my businesses for this house. I should not get tired of monitoring them. Most of all I should give them my love, patience and understanding," he said.
Unicef identifies peer influence economic insecurity, broken and dysfunctional families as factors contributing to children in conflict with the law.
Jun (not his real name) was more often hanging out with his barkada than stay home. At 12, he was jailed for murder. He was later transfered to a rehabilitation center because of his age.
After almost three years of detention, he was brought over to BSAP.
"I cannot go home. My mother is afraid that my complainant will take revenge on me," he said in the vernacular. He would have wanted to ask for forgiveness, but it's difficult to do so considering that somebody's life has been taken.
"I am happy here. I am able to go to school. I wish when I wake up, I'm already in college. I want to be a social worker so that I can also help my fellow juveniles to have a better life. I hope BSAP would still be there to help children like me," he added.
Its children like Jun whom BSAP has envisioned to reach out to. Children who may have gone astray but hold fast to dreams of a better life, which life's realities have denied them of discovering for themselves.
"The people should accept, understand and do something about these children. If people would care to guide them, it wouldn't be difficult. By trusting them, they can feel trusted. And I know they wouldn't betray that trust," Mabayao said.
This article is among a host of articles submitted by Masscom students of the Ateneo de Davao University for their advanced journalism class under Ms Gemima Valderrama.