Are Filipino Children Still at the Margins?
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Children’s Rights Implementation under the Aquino Administration
The Philippines is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. As a State Party, the Philippines is subject to review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and feedback on its progress in ensuring that the rights of Filipino children are being met. The Council on the Welfare of Children (CWC) is the mandated institutional mechanism of the Philippine government responsible for the coordination, implementation and monitoring of the State party‘s international and national commitments or obligations to its Children.
To date, the Philippines has submitted three reports to the UNCRC, the last was a consolidated report for the third and fourth reporting period which covered the period between 2000-2008. In 2009, The Philippine NGO Coalition submitted its Alternative Report to the UNCRC and concluded that Filipino children were marginalized as a result of then Pres. Arroyo’s development agenda.
This essay aims to track what the Philippine Government has done in the succeeding years, with a special focus on the Aquino administration (2010-2016). Data that pertains to three aspects of children’s rights monitoring were sought out and examined: 1) the Philippines’ response to previous UNCRC recommendations; 2) promotion of children’s right to life, survival and development; and 3) the safeguarding of children’s right to protection.
Responding to UNCRC’s previous recommendations
While the UNCRC cited the Philippines for providing an adequate legal framework for the promotion of children’s rights, there were some issues that called for a legislative response: minimum age of sexual consent; discrimination against children born out of wedlock; child pornography; prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings; and prohibition of torture.
Three laws were passed in 2009 as the Philippines’ response to these recommendations: RA 9858 recognizes the legitimacy of children born out of wedlock; RA 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act and RA 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act. However, two other issues, raising the minimum age of sexual consent and the prohibition of corporal punishment, have bills still pending in Congress.
Promoting children’s right to life, survival and development
Poverty poses the most serious threat to children’s right to life, survival and development. The Aquino administration has been harping about the significant increase in the country’s GDP compared to that in the Arroyo years (6.22 vs. 3.9). While data show a slight decrease in poverty incidence (from 28.7% to 26.8%), no data on child poverty is available after 2009. In 2009, around 13.4 million (36% of all children below 18) are considered income poor.
The Philippines has also shown significant strides in its battle against malnutrition. The 2013 data showed a significant decline in the prevalence of underweight children since 1990 (from 27.3 to 19.9). But this trend was not enough to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of 13.6. The country also has managed to reduce under-5 mortality (from 64.2 in 1990 to 30) and infant mortality rates (from 33.6 in 1990 to 22) based on 2013 data.
Children’s right to education is promoted through universal access to basic education. Available data show that while net enrolment rate in elementary education has significantly increased (from 83.2% in 2006 to 95.2% in 2012); cohort survival rates and completion rates registered only minimal increases. However, data on secondary education were modest at best. While net enrolment rate increased (60.46% to 64.61%), cohort survival rates and completion rates slightly decreased.
The Aquino administration’s centerpiece program, the Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), aims to keep more Filipino children by providing families with small monetary incentives depending on the number of children kept in school. Given more emphasis in this term, school participation registered slight increases, especially for children age 6-15 years (range of 90- 98.4%) in 2011 compared to 2007. In 2012, it was recommended that the period of assistance to existing children-beneficiaries to go beyond 5 years and cover families with children aged 15-18
On June 2014, the DSWD started with the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) - Expanded Age Coverage (EAC) of the 4Ps. As of 31 July 2014, there are 888,350 households with children 15-18 and 924,066 children aged 15-18 included in the program. No data has yet been released that would allow an examination of the impact of this change.
Safeguarding children’s right to protection
If there is one aspect that the Aquino administration is not giving as much emphasis, it is in the safeguarding of children’s right to protection from abuse and exploitation.
A bill banning corporal punishment in all settings has been pending in Congress since 2007. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives but has languished in the Senate for some time now. In 2013, Congress passed the RA 10627: Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 which outlines mechanisms to deal with bullying incidents in both public and private schools. The law covers basic and secondary education.
Children still fall victims of rape. In 2013, the Philippine National Police recorded a total of 5,493 rape incidents involving women and child victims.
Meanwhile, data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) show that most victims are girls aged 14-18.
With the new law on child pornography, DSWD has reportedly served a total of 150 cases of child pornography and cyber pornography from 2010 to 2013. However, online child sex tourism is reported to be flourishing. No data on prosecution of perpetuators or details about the rehabilitation of children victim-survivors are available.
Another protection issue is child trafficking. The Philippines is primarily a source country for children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. In February 2013, Republic Act No. 10364 or the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act effectively amended RA 9208 to include sanctions for attempted trafficking and accomplices. Authorities have convicted 53 sex traffickers, an increase from 31 in 2013, and acquitted three individuals. It obtained one conviction for labor trafficking.
Meanwhile, majority of the children victims of trafficking were subjected to forced labor. However, only five of the 26 facilities had the capacity to shelter male victims, and some boy victims were placed in shelters for children in conflict with the law. Protective services for male victims remained scarce, and the DSWD prematurely discharged them without investigating for trafficking indicators. On a related concern, about three million children work in hazardous conditions based on 2011 data from the National Statistics Office (NSO).
Children are one of the most vulnerable sectors at the time of disasters. An estimated 5.9 million children were affected by Typhoon Yolanda. A myriad of problems confront children after a natural disaster. Conditions were poor in evacuation centers, negatively impacting children’s health and survival. Many of the school infrastructure are destroyed and those that remained standing were converted into evacuation centers. Children had to stop schooling or were sent to other places to continue their schooling. Children become vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation as well.
Children in situations of armed conflict also face parallel problems. For example, an estimated 71,000 children were affected by the Zamboanga siege in 2013. Whole villages were evacuated to avoid civilian casualties but the evacuation sites posed severely poor living conditions. Another serious issue is the use of children as combatants. A 2012 UN report revealed there were 11 recorded incidents of recruitment and use of children in conflict in the Philippines. These involved 23 boys and two girls aged 12 to 17 years old.
Children in conflict with the law are another sensitive matter. No updated statistics on CICL are available beyond 2009. In 2012, RA 10630 amended the earlier law (RA 9344) and required local government units (LGUs) to manage juvenile intervention and support centers called “Bahay Pag-asa” (House of Hope). As of 2014, there are 21 such houses nationwide. A 2014 UNICEF evaluation of 15 programs that cater to CICL found that the programs provided a suitable environment for the rehabilitation and reintegration of CICL. However, there are still calls by some sectors to amend the law by lowering the age of criminal responsibility.
Concluding observations and recommendations
Mechanisms for monitoring and documentation remain to be lacking: Data still not disaggregated based on age; and that children data almost always lumped together with adult data. Despite clamor from the international community, child protection systems are still not fully in place or integrated in the different levels of governance.
Are Filipino children still at the margins? Not as much as before but they are still not yet front and center of the development agenda. The legislative framework is already in place and to a certain extent the necessary financial resources are already allocated. Compared to his predecessor, Aquino has poured in more resources for social services yet can do a lot more if funds are efficiently used. The challenge is how the government can be more responsive, coordinated and efficient in the implementation.
Jay A. Yacat is an Associate Professor of the Department of Psychology, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines, Diliman