Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous “war on drugs” may soon place thousands of primary school children in harm’s way.
The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) announced on Friday that it is seeking the authority from the Dangerous Drugs Board to impose annual surprise drug screening tests on teachers and school children starting from the fourth grade. PDEA has justified the move as an attempt to identify 10-year-old potential drug users so they “can get intervention while they are still young.”
But this proposal, the latest dangerous outgrowth of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign which has already claimed the lives of dozens of children, will place school children at grave risk. It marks a drastic extension of mandatory drug testing already in place for all college students and applicants, and will effectively allow the police to extend their “anti-drug” operations to primary school classrooms. Imposing mandatory drug testing on schoolchildren when Philippine police are committing rampant summary killings of alleged drug users puts countless children in danger for failing a drug test.
The PDEA said that drug test results will be confidential and the Dangerous Drugs Board announced it will negotiate guidelines for the mandatory testing program “to ensure rights of students are protected and their safety is guaranteed.” But the government’s repeated dismissal of the deaths of dozens of children in “drug war” killings by police and unidentified gunmen as “collateral damage” suggests that children’s safety won’t be a top priority.
The mandatory testing of children for drug use raises other human rights concerns as well. Taking a child’s bodily fluids, whether blood or urine, without their consent may violate the right to bodily integrity and constitute arbitrary interference with their privacy and dignity. Depending on how such testing occurs, it could also constitute degrading treatment, and may deter children from attending school or college for reasons unrelated to any potential drug use, depriving them of their right to an education.
The government should provide children with accurate information about the potential risks of drug use, not put them in the crosshairs of a summary killing campaign that has already claimed the lives of more than 12,000 Filipinos.