Children at center stage
Thirty years after the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, recognized as the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world, children in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) took center stage in local celebrations of National Children’s Day last Nov. 20.
Fittingly, children were the focus of the day’s events, including the launching of the Bangsamoro Children’s Agenda, the awarding of five children from the region as “Huwarang Pantawid Pamilya Children 2019” (Model Pantawid Pamilya Beneficiary Children), and declarations of support from various sectors not just for the children’s agenda but also for the rights and welfare of children in one of the country’s poorest and most deprived regions.
Indeed, the almost one million children in BARMM continue to be burdened by poverty, lack of access to education and health facilities, and continued uncertainty given the conflicts and disasters that have lately visited their region.
At an assembly organized by Unicef and other child’s rights organizations under the auspices of the BARMM Ministry of Social Services and Development (MSSD) headed by lawyer Raissa Jajurie, some 500 schoolchildren took part in the communal celebration, including an impromptu “talent show” that featured the students’ skills in dance, song, oratory and traditional performance. Although the loudest and most excited applause, it must be noted, was reserved for the Jollibee mascots who graced the event at the assembly’s closing.
Later in the day, focus shifted to the special session of the BARMM parliament where representatives pledged support for the six-point Children’s Declaration. Here, the young people expressed their dreams for better education, an end to poverty and hunger, lasting peace, better parenting programs and the greater participation of children and youth “in finding solutions to issues that affect them.”
These aspirations are intertwined and intimately linked. As one youth leader said, his greatest dream is to complete his education, even if it has meant living apart from his family. “But it also means that for our schools to remain open, there must be peace and prosperity for all of us.”
Jajurie expressed her determination to institutionalize the measures meant to fulfill the children’s agenda, saying this could be done mainly through the budget process that will infuse funds not just in the MSSD, but also in other departments relevant to children’s rights and welfare.
She cited the efforts of health officials, including the Unicef field office in Mindanao, to attain wider coverage for immunization against polio and other childhood diseases, which could be the harbinger of more successful delivery of quality health services in the previously neglected region. Indeed, as Andrew Morris of the Unicef field office recounted, so successful was the recent antipolio campaign in BARMM that coverage far exceeded expectations.
Karin Hulshof, Unicef regional director for East Asia and the Pacific, shared how “thrilled” she was with the events of the day, especially the pledges made by BARMM officials to prioritize children and “promote and protect the rights of children” and address the issues that still deter them from fulfilling their full potential. Now is the time, added Hulshof, to begin “building on the gains to address the unfinished business” while “reinvigorating the efforts to end disparities and deprivations children continue to suffer.”
Given the many remaining challenges confronting children in BARMM, there is no doubting that much remains to be done to bring them just on par with their counterparts in other parts of the country. As Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, Unicef Philippines representative, pointed out, children in BARMM “are lagging behind in almost all indicators.” But with peace unfolding and renewal in the air, the potential for more systematic and strategic interventions for children is strong—assuming, of course, that all these well-laid plans will not be derailed by ill intentions and, well, corruption.
As we are seeing with the botched preparations for the SEA Games, bold declarations and even a huge budget do not a successful event make. What will it take for children to remain at the center of the BARMM’s agenda for governance? Why, no less than the vigilance of the children—and of adults who care about them — no less!
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