Filipino children in peril

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Ma. Isabel Ongpin

THE fate of children in Philippine contemporary life is cause for grave concern. Children are being starved, murdered, raped, exploited as labor, left to fend for themselves even as helpless toddlers and still under the age of reason.

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As a result, we have cases of neglected and abandoned children, children who do not have enough to eat not only because of poverty but because of ignorance, neglect and irresponsibility not just of parents but of society. A whole generation that from early indications now will be stunted, of below-average intelligence, and who will not just be unable to contribute to society in the future but will be a burden to everyone.

What do you say of demented people taking children hostage, punishing them in murderous rages, raping and molesting them, killing them deliberately, using them for trafficking, turning them into sexual workers? Or, parents who regard children as property to do as they want – beg, steal, work, or exchange them for lucre? It is unfortunately not uncommon and almost a run-of-the mill occurrence here.

A one-year-old was murdered by a homicidal aunt who taped his mouth, bound him in a blanket and stuffed him into a closet. Three siblings were killed along with their elders. Spouses who fight hurt, burn, kill their children to get back at each other. Numerous instances of children used for cybersex instigated by their own parents. In fact, whole barangays in the south and some neighborhoods in urban areas have been found to be conducting such internet pornography. What about child vendors of sampaguita garlands, cigarettes, soft drinks, candy, etc. out in the streets and out of school? Just last week in Tambo, Parañaque, I saw a girl who could not have been more than nine years old carrying a pail of water through several blocks. Parents think nothing of sending children out at night to buy a plate of noodles or a soft drink. Along the way, they are molested and many of them have been killed. What about children left on their own in the streets or chained at home while parents are away? What about children with physical defects hidden away without help, care, compassion.

The above events are happening everyday, almost everywhere to a substantial number of Filipino children who have no one else to turn to, to defend them, or to value them. Aside from poverty and the natural calamities that they have to face in this country, which bring disastrous consequences not only in the present but way into the future, there are armed conflicts where they are not only caught in the crossfire but made to participate by carrying arms, fighting and killing. What kind of adults will these child victims turn out to be?

The present state of Filipino children is already a national emergency. The problem has to be addressed and the state has to step in. We cannot just be concerned with economic growth without humanitarian applications. We cannot think that we are progressing if our children are not accounted for as they should be – the future of this country.

Yes, there is a law for daycare centers where working parents can safely leave their children where they are assured of care, but are there enough and are those that exist really doing their jobs? Working daycare centers are few and far between. There are some feeding centers mostly run by religious, private sector individuals, and non-government organizations. But they are not enough in the face of the great need. The barangays are supposed to be looking out for the welfare of their residents. Do they even recognize that their responsibility includes the welfare of children? Most child advocates say that barangays do not think that is in their job description, judging by their indifference to the plight of children in their midst. What about education? Why are there so many children allowed to be out of school begging, stealing, getting in harm’s way? If the adults in their families are irresponsible, should not the state step in?

From the hinterlands (the child rapes in the Cordillera are mentioned time and again but nothing about bringing their perpetrators to justice) to the big urban areas, children are being given short shrift in this country. We have the Department of Social Welfare and Development, but it is overwhelmed with taking care of victims of calamities, conflicts and administrative duties like the 4Ps program, registration of NGOs, adoption cases, providing shelter to battered women and child victims of crimes. The DSWD already has too much on its plate without burdening it with everyday children’s welfare matters, where being pro-active is absolutely needed.

Local governments via the barangays are failing or not expected to help by their own choice or by the failure of the law or the rules and regulations of local government. Or, by general acceptance that that is the way it is.

There should be a government agency exclusively mandated for children – their welfare, health, schooling, future. An agency that can lean on the local governments and barangays to do their jobs, staffed by truant officers, children’s health guardians, officials mandated to save children from cruelty and starvation. An agency encompassing all these duties to ensure that a substantial number of the future generation that is in grave peril grow up as nurtured, valued individuals who will in turn care for and value others. This should be a Cabinet-level agency that would focus solely on Filipino children, particularly those living under intolerable conditions. I wondered if this would not mean another bureaucratic layer, but children’s advocates assure me that in these perilous times for Filipino children, it is absolutely needed for focus and action.

All of us should ponder on the perils facing Filipino children and move towards affirmative action to fight them.

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