A screenshot of an officer with five youths locked inside a dog cage after breaking curfew in Laguna province, the Philippines on March 20, 2020. 

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Philippine authorities have subjected children to absurdly abusive treatment for violating curfew and quarantines rules imposed to limit exposure to COVID-19.

Police and local officials in several parts of the country have mistreated people detained for violating COVID-19 regulations, including by confining them to dog cages and forcing them to sit for hours in the midday sun.

Reports shared with Human Rights Watch by child rights groups in Manila show that children are among those facing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for violating pandemic emergency measures.

In Cavite province, two children were locked in a coffin on March 26 as punishment for violating curfew. On March 20, officials in Santa Cruz town, Laguna province, locked five young people inside a dog cage. In Binondo, Manila, village officials arrested four boys and four girls on March 19 for violating curfew. They forcibly cut the hair of seven of the children while the one who resisted was stripped naked and ordered to walk home.

Even when adults are arrested it can create risks for children. As of March 30, the authorities had arrested more than 17,000 people for violations of COVID-19 emergency measures, according to Rappler. In some cases, children’s caregivers have been arrested for violating COVID-19 regulations. In Tacloban City, a mother was arrested on March 24 for allowing her children to play outdoors.

Things could get worse. On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte, whose murderous “war on drugs” has killed thousands of people since 2016, said that his orders to the police and military during the pandemic were “if there is trouble, … shoot them dead."

The Philippines already has a terrible record of criminalizing children, with members of Congress attempting to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12, with some having proposed it to be lowered to 9. If enacted, this could put more and younger children behind bars in dangerous detention facilities.

Human Rights Watch has urged governments to prioritize the right to health and respect everyone’s human rights as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Locking up people for violating emergency measures such as curfews and quarantine rules may actually increase disease transmission if people are placed in close proximity to one another in detention facilities. Children should not face criminal sanction for violating emergency measures.

Philippine authorities should focus on measures that could actually help stop the spread of COVID-19.