There’s nothing more to celebrate on the 18th year commemoration of United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) amidst the destabilized and unhealthy conditions of our children. The Philippine government as state party to the international mandate is accountable to Filipino children. The state as the primary duty-bearer in the realization of the fulfillment of children’s rights is what the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo failed to do.
Government’s political will, accountability, sincerity, and legitimacy to enforce the law remain to be seen and challenged as indicators would show that the quality of life of Filipino children continues to deteriorate due to rising economic uncertainty, paralyzing poverty, social vulnerability, and exacerbated by bad governance, environmental degradation, escalating armed conflict, and mass political marginalization.
That is, the gap between children’s vulnerability and fulfillment of their rights is persistently widening because the government failed to address the reality that increasing vulnerability to children is inextricably-linked to situations of unjust and oppressive socio-economic and political structures. Mrs. Arroyo had delivered seven (7) consecutive State of the Nation’s Addresses (SONAs) already, but still deafening state rhetorics, empty promises, and has no moral ascendancy to genuinely address children’s issues and concerns. What went wrong to the hopefuls of “bangka and eroplanong papel”?
The Current State of Filipino Children
. There are about 37.6 million children (below 18 years old) in the current total population and 70% of these children are living in the rural areas.
. Children are vulnerable due to socio-economic status and for being a child. In the case of girl-child, vulnerability is tripled with the addition of gender as a sensitive issue.
. Poverty incidence is high in rural areas due to massive landlessness and liberalization of agricultural sector.
. 11 million Filipinos are living extreme poverty (Global Hunger Index).
. Children in poverty situation is about 80% of its total population given that average family income has declined by more than 30% since 2001 up to now (IBON).
. Hunger hits new record high of 19% (8 million families) in last quarter of 2006, while hunger remains high in Mindanao at 22% (Social Weather Station).
. 6 out of 10 infants up to a year old are anemic while 4 out of 10 pregnant women are also anemic.
. Almost 30 of 1,000 infants die before they reach age 1 while 40 will die before age 5.
. 26 out of 100 children fail to be immunized against basic childhood diseases.
. 8 out 10 Filipinos cannot afford health care. (Health Alliance for Democracy)
. The Arroyo government has money for all-out war, none with health care services.
. Inadequate birth registration services, particularly for children in remote areas, IP children. 5 million of the total population is unregistered.
. Demolition and lack of housing services
On Development: Education in crisis
. Only 15% of children, aged 6, attended ECCD while most of daycare centers are ill-budget and concentrated in urban areas and less or non-existent in many rural areas.
. Due to poverty and malnutrition, 35-40% of elementary students tend to stop schooling.
. Teacher to student ratio in elementary and high school is 1:50, 1 classroom holds an average of 65 pupils while 5 students share 1 textbook.
. Shortage of at least 60,000 teachers and 50,000 classrooms. (DepEd)
Children’s Right to be Protected
. Rising number of child laborers. About 5 million are working children, aged 5-17. Child labor is mainly rural and male; 94% are 10-14 years old.
. About 3 million of them are engaging in worst forms of child labor such as in commercial sexual exploitation, plantation farms, mining and quarrying, etc.
. 180,000 are child miners (PACT)
. There’s a growing doubt to the effectiveness of government’s program against child labor given that its neo-liberal economic policies failed to resolve mass poverty and even exacerbated economic disparities.
. 1.5 million street children; increasing annually by 630,000 – and are vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking.
. The effective implementation of Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (RA 9344) remains to be seen and challenged.
. 75% of Brgy. Council for the Protection of Children are non-functional, almost nil in rural areas (Council for the Welfare of Children)
. Rising number of child offenders (theft, robbery, gangsterism, and drug abuse) – and are susceptible to torture and ill-treatment by law enforcers are still rampant.
. Summary killings of minors are still rampant in Southern Mindanao and Cebu.
Minimal Participation of Children and Young People
. Oftentimes, children/young people’s participation is limited only to the level of tokenism and maneuverism.
. Sangguniang Kabataan is not empowered. Oftentimes, SK officials are controlled by Barangay Councils.
. No genuine representation of children and young people in the legislative body due to marginalization.
HIGHLIGHTS of State Violence
. March 31 – Grecil Buya, 9-year old girl was admittedly killed by the elements of 67th IB during their military operation in New Bataan, Compostela Valley Province.
. Aug. 19 – 8 children aged 4 to 16 years old from Indanan, Sulu were arrested and tortured along with their parents by the military’s Joint Special Operations Force.
. September (last week) – 11-year old girl-child was killed in the bombing incident by suspected terrorist group in Kidapawan, North Cotabato.
. October 16 – 8-year old girl-child “Nena” was abducted and interrogated by the 78th IB PA while in school in Tuburan, Cebu on the suspicion that her parents were members of NPA; the girl was then rescued on October 31.
. October 28 – a 2-month old baby boy, together with his parents and grandfather were abducted by the military in civilian clothes in Quezon Province; as of the moment they are still missing.
. November 2 – Mariannet Amper, 12-year old girl, committed suicide out-of-poverty and victim of sexual abuse. Though investigation is still on the process but it should not divert the issue on poverty.
We are paying tribute to those children who are victims of state neglect like Grecil, Mariannet and millions of disadvantaged Filipino children whose rights were ruthlessly violated. We challenged the Arroyo government to immediately respond and prioritize the interests of our children, as they are the bearer of the country’s future.
Children’s rights to survival, development, protection, and participation as enshrined in the UNCRC will not be realized under conditions of unjust socio-economic and political structures, defective and anti-people policies and bad governance. The struggle for the fulfillment of children’s rights is intertwined with the people’s struggle for genuine social transformation.
Melba Gambong, Spokesperson – GABRIELA-Southern Mindanao Region
John Birondo, Advocacy Officer – Children's Rehabilitation Center-Southern Mindanao Regional Office (CRC-SMRO)
Jewella Arriza, Spokesperson – Sining Ugnayang Bata (KABIBA Cultural Group)
Honey May I. Suazo, Executive Secretary – KABIBA Alliance for Children’s Concerns in Mindanao
Karla Apat, Spokesperon – ANAKBAYAN-Davao City