Philippines - Child Rights Coalition Asia
Walking around downtown Manila one could not help by witness children, bringing with them even younger siblings waylay almost every passerby and ask for alms. Others of their age are more enterprising as they earn money out of collecting recyclable trash or collecting passengers for waiting jeepneys and other public transport. Such work however has kept many of them from school and for children who are engaged in quarrying in the countryside, such work took a toll on their very young bodies.
These are just few symptoms of the country’s spiraling poverty, which not even a progressive Constitution and laws could abate. Following a welfare approach, the Philippine government tasks itself to ensure the availability of health and educational services to children up to secondary education. It has also set up institutions to care for children in crisis. Recent years have also seen changes in the country’s anti-trafficking mechanisms, violence against children laws and juvenile justice systems. But some critical legislation and much less implementation of existing laws remain on paper. For example, child rights advocates have been lobbying for an anti-corporal punishment law but to this day, this measure is still pending.
Moreover, corruption, political repression and conflicts have found their worst impacts in the quality of life of Filipino children. Based on government figures, the Philippine population stands at around 95 million. In 2007, the median age was 21 years while in 2009, individuals 18 years and below comprised 37 per cent of the population. This suggests that children and youth ought to be the foremost priority of the government.
But this has not been the case. A substantial portion of the national budget immediately goes to foreign debt servicing. In 2002, the gap between education spending and debt servicing was at 52.06 per cent. Along with education, health, housing and other social services have also been marginalized.
But there are even more significant factors which aggravate the limited investment of the government to every Filipino child. When one examines the poorer Filipino families who tend to have more and undesired number of children due to their lack of access to basic information about sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Like its prioritization of debt-servicing, the continuing labor migration has also been a bane to many children. Labor migration has been the Philippine government’s primary economic strategy since the 1970s. It is important to note that more women than men leave the country for work and most of them are destined for unskilled employment, which is hardly regulated and monitored. Such practice has left a pattern called international division of care, where while a Filipino domestic worker cares for a child of her employer, her child is in turn cared for by a mother from the province and whose child usually is left with just anyone. There have been several studies which show the negative impact of the prolonged absence of parents on children.
Poverty has also become a push factor for children to leave their homes to work. Unfortunately, this has not resulted in an ability to send home money. Instead, these have led to trafficking and worse, sexual exploitation. Although the Philippines passed the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act in 2003, a high number of children is still being moved from one place to another, ending up in a condition that is quite different from what they expect. The Southern island of Mindanao has also become an exit point for traffickers who ply the seas going to Malaysia and other countries.
Many children are similarly caught in armed conflicts. Those who are displaced, along with other members of the family, had to stop going to school. They are also shocked and sometimes traumatized by the fighting that happens right before their eyes. But there are also children who are engaged in the actual operations. Rebel groups such as the National People’s Army (NPA) of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as well as supposedly support group of the military, such as the Civilian Armed Force Geographic Unit (CAFGU) have been involved in the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers.
Meanwhile, in Davao City, in Southern Philippines, street children have become subjects of summary executions which were commonly attributed to the Davao death squad, a vigilante group that is said to be handled by the police and targets former insurgents and some youth. According to a report, from August 1998 to May 2008, there have been some 671 cases, where most victims are male.
The Philippines also has a Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from nine to 15 years. Despite this, many children are still in detention, often mixed with adults. According to the Coalition to Stop Child Detention through Restorative Justice, there were 9,391 children accused of violating the law (CAVL) in 2000, 8,198 of these are boys. Nonetheless girls are more prone to abuses, including sexual abuse. Some girls are considered “ghost prisoners” or are rounded up with the assumption that they are engaged in prostitution.
Specialized courts are also still lacking. But even before this legislation could be fully implemented, there have been recent moves to once more lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding Observations on Third and Fourth Periodic Report, (CRC/C/PHL/CO/3-4)
Third and Fourth Periodic Report submitted by Philippine Government to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, (CRC/C/PHL/3-4)
Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding Observations concerning initial report on the implementation of the OPCRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict, (CRC/C/OPAC/PHL/CO/1)