Giving a new life to children in conflict with the law

The Philippines is among the countries with the highest number of children not attending school. According to statistics, in the project city of General Santos, 1,800 children drop out of school each year before completing the primary cycle. There are several causes, but the main one is poverty. Although government schools are virtually free, for many families income is barely enough to cover basic needs and no resources are left for children’s education. Many poor families prefer that their children, even young ones, get jobs, but the very lack of education makes this very difficult and also a future entry into the labor market. Out of school and often neglected by parents busy scraping together the necessities of life every day, children increasingly fall into a situation of marginalization, vulnerability and at high risk of abuse and exploitation. In General Santos, the number of children begging, living on the streets and involved in illicit activities is on the rise. The latter, often victims of domestic violence, are initiated to the use of drugs, alcohol and led to join gangs and engage in theft and robbery.

When the Marcellin centre was opened in 1991 by the Marist Brothers of the Philippines to help the most vulnerable children, and among them those in conflict with the law, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (JJWA) had not yet been passed and juvenile offenders were detained along with adults, waiting months for their cases to be resolved even for minor offences, suffering abuse and worsening their situation. The Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act was enacted precisely to keep children in conflict with the law out of prison and to ensure their protection, rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

In spite of this, the Marcellin Centre programme is still the only one in the city of General Santos that caters for children in conflict with the law and provides a complete path to recovery, with residential, educational and vocational training facilities, also welcoming children sent from other municipalities.


The project aims to provide new opportunities for alternative shelter to prison and social reintegration for minors in conflict with the law and at risk.

Project recipients are ages 12 to 17 from General Santos (urban) and Sarangani (rural) provinces sent to the Marcellin center by the juvenile court or social welfare. They belong to communities that have very limited access to education and employment opportunities and have the highest number of children and youth with delinquency problems. The center’s beneficiaries also include minors who are at risk of becoming offenders such as street children and children from poor and broken families who have dropped out of school.

The project begins with the offer of ‘hospitality at the center’s family homes and reintegration into school. The path to recovery is intended to be as open as possible to the local community to help eliminate stigma, which is why it involves minors resuming or beginning their schooling at schools in the city. Some students who are prevented from leaving the Marcellin Center for various reasons (court order not to leave, received threats to their lives, and/or are not psychologically ready to deal with the reality of school and their peers) may take courses within the center that are recognized by the formal school system. The goal is for everyone to complete the school cycle.

The project then offers the children various vocational training courses in agriculture, baking, mechanics, plumbing, carpentry, electricity, welding, refrigeration and air conditioning systems, cooking/restaurant, masonry, motorcycle repair, and information technology. In cooperation with the government’s Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), minors acquire a National Certificate in order to be eligible for employment, and older ones are placed in internship experiences in local companies affiliated with the center, where they are encouraged to apply their skills and develop their potential, including being hired by the companies themselves. In other cases, minors are sent to take courses at other vocational training centers, and thanks to scholarships, a now large group has completed university studies.

All of these children have blossomed to a new life and none of them have committed new crimes.

The community outreach activities provided by the project are in fact carried out with the testimony of the children themselves, who by their example offer a model for other young people for a life outside of violence and constructive and a new way of participating in society, relating to others and to themselves.

The project helps combat systemic violence and exploitation because it offers minors in conflict with the law and street children an alternative path to rehabilitation and reintegration by becoming aware of their own rights and those of others. Along the way, they are also offered legal assistance should the need arise – recently an agreement was signed with an association of local lawyers who offer their protection free of charge.

Numerous trainings are organized by the Marcellin Center staff for social workers, educators, law enforcement, and government officials to promote a change of mentality and ensure that these minors have a space to listen during the judicial process

FMSI and Misean Cara have been supporting this project since 2016.

In the summer of 2020, UNICEF visited the project and released the documentary.

A second chance for children in conflict with the law

Video: UNICEF Philippines


The project aims to provide new opportunities for alternative shelter to prison and social reintegration for minors in conflict with the law and at risk.


  • 60 boys per year placed on the rehabilitation pathway

Sustainable Development Goals: 1,3,4,8,11

Laudato Sì Goals: 2,7