In the Month of the Child
Family remains the cornerstone of life among Filipinos. It is the one reason overseas Filipino workers cite for forsaking the familiar, in order to earn a bigger paycheck to send home. But children might as well be estranged from this tight circle, so often have they been in the cross hairs of abuse and neglect.
August was a particularly bad month for children. Who can forget 14-year-old Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman, who went missing in August even as his companion, Carl Arnaiz, 19, was killed in what police initially said was a shootout?
Kulot’s corpse was eventually found days later with torture marks and as many as 28 stab wounds, his head wrapped with packing tape.
How a boy from Cainta with hardly any money for a meal ended up dead in a creek in Gapan, Nueva Ecija, some 100 kilometers away, remains a question, as is the identity of his killers.
Before Kulot and Carl, there was Kian delos Santos, 17, whom CCTV footage showed being dragged by raiding policemen who later shot him in an alley. Another drug-related shootout, the police claimed.
Kian’s death brought to at least 54 the number of people aged 18 and below killed in either police operations or vigilante-style killings in the first year of the war on drugs, according to
data from the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center.
“Collateral damage” was how President Duterte last year described cases of children killed in the course of drug-related police operations. It might seem that the Department of the Interior and Local Government was being ironic when it announced that the theme for this November’s Month of the Child is “Bata: Iligtas sa Droga.”
In Congress, children are under siege as well, with lawmakers earlier considering that the age of criminality be lowered from 15 to 9.
Meanwhile, the Department of Social Welfare and Development cited the many cases of child abuse reported in the first quarter of 2016: as many as 2,147 cases, or nearly half of the 4,374 cases reported for the entire year in 2015.
Malnutrition remains another form of child abuse, with the Philippines rated as having one of the weakest commitments to end this malaise that hits children hardest. The result is an increase in stunting rates, with about 30 percent of Filipino children suffering from it, according to the child rights group Save the Children.
But perhaps the most insidious form of child abuse these days is cybersex, since it happens right inside the home, often with parents themselves and other kin instructing children to perform sexual acts before a video camera, with the images sold and transmitted abroad. There’s no physical contact involved, the parents argue, to justify their complicity in this horror.
Human rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of children in the Philippines have been abused in this way. In fact, according to reports, the Philippine National Police Anti-
Cybercrime Group found 136 cases of children exploited in cybersex dens in 2015 — the highest number in three years.
All these abuses deserve a closer look in the Month of the Child, which came to be by virtue of Republic Act No. 10661 signed by President Benigno Aquino III in May 2015. The month also celebrates the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by the United Nations General Assembly on Nov. 20, 1989, and the Philippines’ subsequent signing of it.
The legally binding international agreement sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of every child regardless of race, religion, or abilities.
Aside from such basic rights as the right to life, to their own name and identity, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to education and the best possible state of health, as well as an adequate standard of living, the CRC acknowledges that children have the right to express their opinions, be protected from abuse or exploitation, and to have privacy.
Given the rampant abuses committed against our children, the Month of the Child should prove to be the perfect opportunity for policymakers to mull the initiatives that would make this period a celebratory paean, instead of a painful reckoning.
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