Advocates push children’s issues in polls

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 10 April) – Advocates in Region 12 have embarked on a campaign to highlight child rights, welfare and protection as among the top issues and concerns that local voters should consider in the upcoming May 13 national and local elections.

Fanny Divino, regional program manager of international child rights group Save the Children, said Wednesday they have launched a series of consultations and awareness campaigns in various parts of the region to educate voters on concerns affecting children and promote them as major election issues.

She said the initiative is part of a nationwide campaign dubbed “Bata Muna: Bomoto Para sa Kapakanan ng Kabataan,” which is aimed at advancing children’s issues in the heart of the ongoing electoral discussions.

The campaign, which was launched in Manila last month by Save the Children and other civil society groups, specifically “wants political leaders who will stand up for children’s rights, voters to demand for political accountability on children’s rights, make children’s issues visible during the campaign time and ultimately influence voters to consider children when voting.”

“We also want our voters to help bring out the voices of our children in the upcoming elections by promoting child rights, welfare and protection issues,” Divino said in a media forum.

Divino said their campaign is mainly focused on assisting local voters gauge the awareness of local candidates on issues and concerns affecting the children.

She said their goal is to make voters become “wiser” and enable them to choose the right candidates on election day.

During their voter’s education sessions, Divino said they scrutinize the advocacies and track record of local politicians.

She said they specifically check whether they are aware of child rights issues, introduced or passed policies and legislations as well as spearheaded or conducted programs and services for children.

They also determine if the candidates have properly taken care of their families and children and if they can be considered as models for their constituents on such aspect, she said.

Divino clarified that their campaigns are issue-based and they are not endorsing or campaigning for a particular person or any political party.

“(But) we’re also reaching out with some political candidates and offering them our assistance if they want to include child rights, welfare and protection issues in their platforms or agendas,” she said.

In Region 12, Divino cited that there are a lot of issues and concerns related to children, specifically those aged 18 years and below, that needs special attention from the local governments and political leaders.

Region 12 comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and North Cotabato as well as the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

In a statement, campaign organizers said that among other children’s rights issues that they are presently focusing is the stricter implementation of the law against child trafficking under the recently enacted Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012.

It said figures from the Department of Social Welfare and Development showed that from January 2003 to September 2012, 23 percent of the trafficked victims in the Philippines are children, of which 85 percent are girls.

“Among the factors that contribute to child trafficking in the Philippines are poverty, low economic development in the communities of origin, lack of education and skills for better economic options, limited employment opportunities, inadequate awareness among families, and gender inequalities,” it added.

In Mindanao, the Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights and Protection (MAGCRP) noted that thousands of children had been displaced because of armed conflict and recent calamities, among them the super typhoon Pablo wherein around 40 percent of the affected six million residents were children.

“Children in rural areas work in mining operations and commercial plantations while children in urban areas fall victims to trafficking, sexual abuse and prostitution. Government’s social services hardly reach children, especially those who belong to Lumads and Moro families in far-flung areas,” the group said. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)