The rights of the child
THE PHILIPPINES has been ranked 58th in the world on how effectively children can use the courts to defend their rights, a global study conducted by Child Rights International Network (CRIN) reveals.
The report, called “Rights, Remedies and Representation,” takes into account “whether children can bring lawsuits when their rights are violated, the legal resources available to them, the practical considerations for taking legal action and whether international law on children’s rights is applied in national courts.”
The countries ranked among the top 10 in the report are: Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Kenya, Iceland, Latvia and the United Kingdom.
Sharing the same general ranking as the Philippines were the United States (52), the Czech Republic, Peru, Sweden, Turkey, Togo and Albania and Burkina Faso, with the last two ranked 59th.
According to CRIN, although the Philippines ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990, “it has not incorporated it into its national law.” Although, it must be made clear, some rights and principles imbued in the CRC have been implemented through national legislation. For instance, a child may bring a case for a violation of his or her rights with the assistance of a parent, legal guardian or “guardian ad litem,” or a guardian appointed by the court.
Philippine law also allows for collective action or group litigation, even for children. The most prominent example of this is “Oposa vs. Factoran,” where a group of minors represented by their parents filed a petition before the Supreme Court to order the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to cancel all Timber License Agreements (TLA) and to cease and desist from further processing applications for new TLAs pursuant to the right of the people to a balanced and healthy ecology.
The minors in the case asserted that they represented their generation as well as the generation yet unborn. On the issue of legal standing, the Supreme Court “held that the minors can for themselves and for the succeeding generations, file a class suit based on intergenerational responsibility.”
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“ACHIEVING access to justice for children is a work in progress,” said CRIN in a statement, and the report represents a “snapshot” of the ways children’s rights are protected across the world. The report condenses findings from 197 country reports, researched with the support of hundreds of lawyers and NGOs and is intended to “help countries improve access to justice for children nationally.”
CRIN Director Veronica Yates says that “while the report highlights many examples of systems poorly suited to protecting children’s rights, there are also plenty of people using the courts to effectively advance children’s rights.”
She points out further that the ranking “represents how well states allow children access to justice rather than how well their rights are enshrined.” But, she adds, “it is hard to ignore how many countries with deplorable human rights records are on the lower end of the ranking for children’s access to justice.”
In the foreword of the report, Dawit Mezmur, chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, pointed out as well that “child rights standards in international instruments do not mean much for the lived reality of children if they are not implemented. In particular, if the fundamental rights of children are violated, it is critical that children or those acting on their behalf have the recourse, both in law and in practice, to obtain a remedy to cease, prohibit and/or compensate for the violation.”
Children’s access to justice in a country depends, to a large extent, on their status within a particular society and culture. In countries where children, including teenagers, are viewed as essentially extensions of their parents, if not outright property, then little respect or recognition will be paid to their individual rights, since it is assumed that these are “subsumed” under the authority of their parents who are presumed to be acting only in their best interests.
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IN THE Philippines, children enjoy little by way of autonomy, much less individual rights. They are viewed simply and strictly as members of a family, which is presumed to always be acting for the good of all.
But experience and lurid headlines and TV/movie dramas tell us a different story. In many families, children are viewed as “property” to be exploited as their parents see fit. Examples extend from beggars carrying infants and very young children, who may or may not be their own children, in the hot sun and braving heavy traffic, the better to attract sympathy; to parents consenting to, if not actively pimping, their children to pedophiles or sexual entrepreneurs.
We also know of children used as unpaid labor on farms or households, most probably with their own consent, to help out the family in dire straits.
On a different plane, the Supreme Court, by way of an amendment to the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, prohibited health center personnel from providing family planning advice, supplies or services to minors unless they can present written consent from their parents.
This is problematic from the point of view of practicality alone, but more so when we consider how adolescents are still viewed as being under the authority of their parents, unable to decide for themselves whether and how they will access knowledge and the services they need to ensure their health and well-being, if not their future altogether.
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