DSWD-12 working to release minors from jails

Jackiya Lao, coordinator of the DSWD-Region 12's community based services unit, said their monitoring for the month of June showed that only 44 minors are still in various jails in the region out of over 100 cases they documented earlier this year.

"Their number has been actually going down because of our continuing efforts for the dismissal of their cases or their transfer to our identified custodians," she said in a radio interview.

Citing their records, Lao said 13 of these minors are at the Sultan Kudarat provincial jail, eight at the South Cotabato provincial jail, seven each at the Sarangani and Cotabato provincial jails, five at the Cotabato City jail, three at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Isulan, Sultan Kudarat and one at precinct number 1 of the Cotabato City police office.

She said the city jails of General Santos and Tacurong did not report a single case of minor offender in their custody.

Lao said all the remaining jailed minors are aged 16 to 17 years old. They have not monitored anyone aged 15 years and below.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo earlier signed Republic Act 9344 (Juvenile Welfare Act), setting exemptions for minors from criminal liability for various offenses.

Instead of detention, children in conflict with the law will undergo diversion programs like counseling, capacity building, training and doing socio-civic work to be handled by the DSWD.

The law also exempts children aged 14 and below from criminal liability and if they have a civil liability they will only be fined or asked to pay damages. But they will undergo counseling.

Upon arrest, children in conflict with the law aged 15 to 18 will no longer be detained but will be turned over to the DSWD for custody and undergo diversion programs.

R.A. 9344 provides the creation of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council under the administrative supervision of the DOJ, but headed by an undersecretary of the DSWD, whose function also includes identifying diversion programs appropriate for a child in conflict with the law.

Lao said 18 of the 44 minors who are still in jail are facing theft and robbery-related charges or cases involving "crimes against property."

She said 12 of them are charged with cases involving "crimes against chastity" such as rape and other modes of sexual abuse.

Lao pointed out that all these 44 minors were involved in previous cases and they have not monitored a single new case so far.

"This development shows that our efforts to keep these minor offenders out of the jails are working and effective so far," she said.

Lao said their office will continue to work for the dismissal of the cases or the transfer of custody of the remaining 44 jailed minors before the end of the year. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)