Children are our future
Sitting in the plenary hall of the Philippine International Convention Center in the very first hybrid annual convention for pediatricians made me shiver. It wasn’t from the air conditioner but more from listening to the plight of our children. It would be selfish if the knowledge gained be confined to the medical community and remained unechoed to the general public. All of us need to be made aware simply because as individuals, and as a community, we are capable of taking action if we choose to.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Currently, there are 17 that we have committed to, with the hope of transforming the world for the better by addressing social, economic, and environmental issues. The summit participants dreamt big and thought of the impossible, and it would have been an experience to be in such a circle of positivity. The world has plenty of room for the dreamers and the driven, and left with seven years to work on achieving these goals, we all need to work unceasingly in the face of the current situation.
So where exactly are we? The following are excerpts from the lecture of a well-known, highly respected pediatrician and a recent Ramon Magsaysay awardee.
The Philippines is ranked 95 among 163 countries as being on track to meeting the 17 SDGs. To monitor progress, there are set indicators for each and several are directly related to children. Our scorecard without a doubt needs working on, most especially if we believe that the future of the country lies in their hands.
Allow me to point out some of the rights of every child:
The right to survive and thrive.
The right to learn.
The right to be protected from violence.
The right to a safe and clean environment.
The right to a fair chance to succeed in life.
Right to survive. In the last 30 years, there has been no progress in solving the problem of undernutrition. In 2019, data show that one in three children, younger than five years old suffered from stunting, being small in size for their age. Discounting the factor of genetics, stunting has been traced to suboptimal prenatal care and conditions which has a significant influence on the growth and subsequent development of the child. The increase in maternal mortality rate, and lack of access to essential services, including immunization, which was further aggravated by the pandemic, has threatened and compromised the health of children. In addition, reports said the Philippines has become the country with the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia and the Pacific, and one of eight countries that account for more than 85 percent of new HIV infections in the region. The age groups most affected were individuals aged 25-34 followed by those in the 15-24 age range. It is noteworthy, that for those who came in with advanced disease, infection was found to have been acquired in their teenage years.
Right to learn. The country has recorded higher attendance rates but this has not been found to be compatible with learning. Amongst Grade 5 students, we are second in the worst in reading and math skills. Social class has a bearing, for those of a higher income status fared better than those enrolled in public schools, further highlighting the great divide between the rich and the poor and going against the belief that having an education is an equalizer.
Right to be protected from violence. Several weeks back, two cases were presented wherein the perpetrators were people they trusted. In a 2015 baseline survey, 80 percent of respondents have experienced some form of abuse in their own homes, communities, schools, and online. You may have heard of online sexual abuse. It is ironic that two things that might be viewed as advantages, that of the ability to speak English and the presence of an efficient money transfer system have been instrumental in making the country an easy target to further child exploitation.
Given the realities, it would be easy to point to poverty as the root cause. Though it cannot be dismissed, it is more of the lack of commitment and political will to invest in the youth that leaves us languishing at the bottom. We need to take action. Haven’t we had enough of being always the last one in the race for a better future? If only the children can speak.