The Rotary Club of Chinatown-Manila has really adopted the information campaign for Restorative Justice. They have partnered with the Foundation for Adolescent Development initially to train people in handling Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) cases.
But since most CICL come from the marginalized sector, with no landlines, and the modern day trend of not phoning anymore (we're fans of cellphones and computers instead), the Rotary Club of Manila and FAD decided to go further and reach the responsible adults and the youth themselves. After all, FAD usually holds Peer Pressure talks so it was just a matter of incorporating restorative justice points in the discussion.
But how to do this without coming across as encouraging the audience to go commit crimes and be merry?
Well, it was really difficult and I was really nervous. But it's great that Project Manager Khristine Gervacio decided to tap youth organizations instead. Youth orgs at least provide a certain level of positive peer pressure and sense of belonging. And we really had to reiterate again and again our points:
* Peer pressure is doing something you didn't want because you want to seek/maintain the approval of your peers
* Positive peer pressure gets you making the right choices and better decisions and keeps you from harm
* Negative peer pressure gets you in trouble and can result in a life of crime
* Criminals and juvenile delinquents aren't born overnight. Usually, they grow in confidence and skill over time, regardless of whether they are caught or not
* They can choose not to get involved but hanging out with the wrong group CAN still result in trouble
* Under the restorative justice, a child below 15 years of age and 15-18 years of age found to have no discernment will not be criminally liable, but their victims or those who will apprehend them can still inflict damage on them (i.e. they can be tortured, not brought to the precinct at all, and killed... and even a hard enough slap can result in hearing loss)
* In case they make wrong decisions or get wrongly accused/apprehended for being at the wrong place and time, they must know their rights and what they can do as a child (the most important of which include contact with parents, representation by a lawyer or DSWD worker and approaching the Women's Desk in precincts)
* Lack of criminal liability does not exempt them from civil liability. They will pay for their crimes, only, in a way that gives them an opportunity to change instead of becoming a hardened criminal
* The system is not perfect. There is a lack of funds for rehabilitation programs. DSWD workers are overtaxed. The police don't always know, or believe in, restorative justice. But these are not reasons for them not to invoke the law, if ever.
* Peer pressure resulting in crime is usually made by older people capitalizing on this law and children which is why children have to protect themselves from this kind of pressure.
* Adolescent issues like identity crisis, problems with parents, intimacy issues, etc. and other things like poverty, environment, lack of education can all be used as reason to give in to negative peer pressure. But drinking, vandalizing, etc to hurt your parents, your gf, etc will always end up hurting the perpetrator more. Cutting classes will get them low grades. Engaging in unprotected premarital sex will make them young parents. Stealing stuff for drinking, gambling or drug money will either get them harmed or killed.
It was great that the Hubog Kabataan had a loving Mommy Hazel they look up to, who finds gigs and projects for them and also welcomes them in her home. It was also great that some in the audience were once juvenile delinquents who have been involved in stealing stuff. They were able to provide the younger ones (we had grade schoolers) an insight to their former life, how hard it was, and how they've found purpose in the youth group. They were also very quick to offer advice and were the ones quick to tell the youngsters, "This law aims to protect us if we ever do wrong, but let's not wait to have to be protected by it, let's protect ourselves instead and avoid crime. A better life awaits those who make the right decisions." (in Filipino, of course!)
So I appeal to those with extra, or who may need help and can tap the youth, please contact Mommy Hazel or e-mail me for the Hubog Kabataan's President's number. Help her help these kids. A lot of the kids are into dancing and dancing gigs in town fiestas or parties will be more than welcome. They'd also appreciate computer lessons or any other lessons, just so long as these kids are preoccupied with something good.
Our talk itself still have a lot of room for improvement. But I know we also did good that day. I just really hope that we managed to 'save' some of these children and that they in turn will get to 'save' their peers.
The talk was held at Kaibigan Foundation premises (San Andres Bukid) last Tuesday, January 26, 2010.