The largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines, Child Rights Network (CRN) has called on government to “put a premium on protecting children’s rights & welfare in this period of an ongoing public health emergency.”
The alliance who has a 46 member organizations across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao has lauded the efforts of the government in intensifying its intervention to combat the pandemic and assured the safety and security of citizens.
Yet CRN have noted how some local authorities have gone above and beyond warranted and justifiable acts as the alliance have been receiving reports of violations against children in connection with the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon. and key areas in the Philippines.
“Enforcement of drastic measures that aim to restrict people’s mobility, such as ECQ, have resulted in unjust and patently illegal acts. It is in this regard that we are expressing our utmost concern,” CRN said.
The covid-19 and its attendant challenges are creating difficult contexts for the public and pockets of abuses are aggravating the situation, observed CRN, and incidents of violence committed against children are already inundating the social media two weeks into the ECQ.
It shared abuses suffered by children in the hands of local authorities as a form of discipline for violating the curfew, a non-violent offence. In Laguna, for instance, children were put on a dog cage while in Cavite, inside a coffin.
“We believe that many more cruel and inhumane measures are being imposed and such incidents go unreported, especially in far-flung communities,” the network aired.
It reminded government that amid the many forms of quarantine, the UN treaty body chairpersons reminded member states that “these controls must be undertaken pursuant to a valid legal framework… A state of emergency, or any other security measures, should be guided by human rights principles and should not, in any circumstances, be an excuse to quash dissent.”
In the Philippine setting, laws provide the legal frameworks for authorities to follow while delivering their duties during the state of public health emergency. These laws are the following:
- Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act,
- Republic Act 10821 or the Children’s Relief and Protection Act of 2016, and
- Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.
Clear-cut guidelines urgently needed
The varying levels of interpretation on the implementation of the national action plan to combat COVID-19 springs from the lack of clear-cut guidelines from the national authority that puts premium on fundamental human rights, especially children’s rights, alongside health and economic intervention.
The Dept. of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Juvenile Justice Welfare Council (JJWC) and Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) are key government agencies that will ensure that the guidelines are crafted with a child rights perspective.
According to CRN, local government units should craft their own guidelines in consonance with DSWD’s Administrative Order 09-2009 or the “Standards for Community Based Services for Street Children, CWC “Protocol to Reach Out to Street Children,” as stated in CWC Board Resolution No. 2-2011, and the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council’s Protocol in Handling Children Violating Local Ordinance.
To achieve a more effective and responsive intervention for children, CRN is calling on the government to enforce the following:
- Protect children in a proactive manner from all forms of abuse – both online or offline. The ECQ has also given rise to cases of online sexual exploitation of children. Children, especially from poor segments of society, are highly vulnerable to these exploitative acts in times of crisis, as it can be viewed as a way to survive at a time when their parents are hampered from earning a living.
- Develop easy-to-reach monitoring mechanisms and share to the public for full transparency and accountability.
- Institute programs that will support parents and guardians on handling children’s anxiety, confusion, fear, and boredom, should also be implemented on a national scale, to ensure that even at home, children are not only protected from domestic abuse and exploitation, but their holistic development also continue in terms of ensuring proper nutrition and health and sanitation (including educating parents on optimal breastfeeding practices such as exclusive breastfeeding), instilling positive discipline, and fostering a nurturing environment.
- Provide children and infants with clean, age and culture-appropriate and nutritionally-adequate food assistance (Nutrition Cluster Advisory No 01 series 2020).
- Include the needs of children with disabilities when developing alternative resources for learning.
More importantly, CRN also enjoins the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to immediately issue a memorandum circular that spells the limits and boundaries on how local government units can innovate on instilling discipline and enforcing community quarantine in their respective areas. Such memorandum should explicitly prohibit any act that threaten life and liberty, unlawful coercion, and illegal arrest. Moreover, the memorandum must provide penalties for officials who are proven to have violated of any of the above,
Report incidents of violence
CRN also calls out to the public to heighten vigilance in these alarming times. We call on all citizens to report cases of child rights violations perpetrated either by state forces or even in a domestic setting to the following:
- Bantay Bata 163 (toll-free call, dial #163)
- Philippine National Police – hotline 117 or to report directly to the Anti-Violence Against Women & Children Division, call the 24/7 hotlines 0919-777-7377 (Smart) or 0966-725-5961 (Globe) or the telephone number (8) 532-6690
- Commission on Human Rights – hotline (8) 294-8704 or mobile numbers 0936-068-0982 (TM) or 0920-506-1194 (Smart), or e-mail reports to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Actionline Against Human Trafficking – 1343 for Metro Manila or (02) 1343 outside Metro Manila
- PNP Aling Pulis Hotline – 0919-777-7377
We call on all Filipinos to stand as one as we hurdle through this dark period. Let us safeguard the rights and welfare of our children, and ensure that their rights do not become collateral damage in the bid to quash the threat of COVID-19.
The Child Rights Network emphasized that “violence is neither the antidote nor the vaccine that will contain this coronavirus.”