Numerous child rights violations happened under the watch of the Duterte administration, prompting child rights advocates and groups to call on the Marcos administration to address these including the resumption of peace negotiations that will identify solutions to socioeconomic strife.
Under the past administration, children were not safe, they were tagged as rebels, extra-judicially killed, displaced from militarized communities, and experienced homelessness and poverty. Pandemic response also proved ineffective for children including the lack of safe education, and loss of jobs and livelihoods for parents that pushed kids to work as well – under poor working conditions – and denying the children the right to continuing education and safe environment for learning.
The recently-concluded National Conference on Children and Human Rights highlighted this state of human rights among children and their families across the regions that were presented in Wednesday’s media forum titled ‘Wagi ang kabataan kapag kapayapaan ang pinag-usapan’ organized by the Childrens Rehabilitation Center and the Council for Peoples Development and Governance.
According to Steven Wahing of the CRC, the conference stated that children’s rights violations continued from the Duterte to the Marcos Jr administrations because the same policies perpetrating these remained. Cases of red-tagging, extra-judicial killings, bribery and recruitment to counterterrorist operations were recorded in the National Capital Region. In the Southern Tagalog additionally strafing, abduction, rape and illlegal arrests versus children branded as NPA rebels. In the Central Luzon and Bicol region, children were likewise victimized by state and paramilitary forces. In the Visayas and Mindanao, these and particularly harassment attacks on schools and the youth even after they have graduated were also reported.
Ivan Bangiban of CRC Panay added that similar state attacks versus progressive organizations affected families as well: surveillance of households, dislocation traumatized children. Bangiban underscored how the economic crisis contributed to the children’s trauma as well.
Testimonies were also given by children during the forum. Fifteen-year-old Leo (not his real name) discussed the plight of urban poor children who ply the streets of Baywalk Manila homeless and hungry.
Luisa (not her real name) of Salinlahi Youth Tondo narrated how children are forced to make a living due to their parents’ lack of jobs and incomes, and experience harassment from demolition cops paving the way to commercial projects thus displacing poor families.
Mark (not his real name), child of land rights activists who joined over a hundred advocates and farmers in a collective farming activity (Bungkalan), relayed how their peaceful gathering was disrupted by uniformed and plain clothesmen and later red- and terror- tagged and mass-arrested.
Kat Dalon, former student of the Mindanao Interfaith Services, Inc. (MISFI), narrated how their schools built amid the lack of learning centers and to help the indigenous peoples defend their lands were forcibly shut down by no less than the government. The MISFI is one of the alternative schools in the island with an agriculture and science- based curriculum helping communities sustain food security and ensure health practices that sit on mineral-rich ancestral lands coveted by big mining and logging corporations.
Online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) meanwhile was tackled by Carina Sajonia, a representative from Davao-based Talikala. The group claimed that 42 of 100 reported rape cases were due to online applications. Based on Talikala and University of Mindanao research, hundreds of children were victims of online sexual exploitation and abuse mostly due to poverty.
Various institutions responded to the reports.
Dr. Reggie Pamugas of the Health Action on Human Rights explained how these rights violations impact negatively such as cause fear, trauma, insecurity, anxiety and lack of trust among child victims, strategically undermining children’s well-being and development.
Ms. Maria Victoria “Bing” Diaz of the Child Rights Center of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) welcomed the forum’s accurate representation of the state of children’s rights, reported on the CHR’s programs to address the situation including pushing for the passage of the anti-online sexual abuse and exploitation law, engaging with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Child Trafficking, noting the statement of the UN Secretary General on the state of children caught in armed conflict, and monitoring youth detention facilities. Diaz called on government to tackle and uphold children’s rights and pledged solidarity in child rights advocacy.
Hon. Arlene Brosas of the Gabriela Women’s Party enumerated pending measures in the 18th and 19th Congresses including those on lowering the age of victims of statutory rape, urging the investigation of cases of child rights violations in the hands of state forces, versus OSAEC, versus the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States resulting violations against women and children and versus mandatory military training. She called on government to uphold economic, social and cultural rights and to stop attacking human rights defenders.
CPDG National Coordinator Jennifer Guste also pledged solidarity in child rights advocacy and commended the children on continuing to aspire for social, economic and ecological sustainability despite the impacts of rights violations. She underscored the importance of advancing People Economics that caters to the development interests of the majority of Filipinos and narrated how CPDG engages with civil society, government and the diplomatic community to amplify and build constituency for this campaign.
Alexander Schmidt, political officer of the German Embassy, expressed admiration for the courage of the child presenters and shared the office’s advocacy of children’s rights in the Philippines in partnership with the CRC, primarily strengthening the capacity of grassroots organizations and children themselves in asserting and monitoring rights.
Lastly Trixie Manalo of the CRC Children’s Collective said she believes in the power of children’s participation and their parents’ support in aserting their rights and forging a better future even for the succeeding generations.
The media forum was facilitated by Pau Rico and Terresa Antoniego of CRC and CPDG, respectively. The forum ended on the note that continuing peace negotiations that tackle concrete solutions to economic and social problems will significantly contribute to upholding children’s rights and welfare. ###
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