The Philippine Plan of Action to End Violence against Children, formulated by the government’s Council for the Welfare of Children and UNICEF, the United Nations children’s organization, outlines and harmonizes the roles of different agencies to enforce child protection measures. It seeks to “break the cycle” of violence by ensuring access to services, building the capacity of children to protect themselves, improving legislation, and serving as a guide for policymakers and donors.
“It is concerning that violence pervades on children, committed by people they trust,” said Julia Rees of UNICEF Philippines, referring to findings of a study commissioned by the agency that showed most incidents of violence against children occur at home, in schools and in their own communities.
Apart from violence at home, children involved in child labor are often at great risk – especially those in hazardous industries such as small-scale mining. Bullying of LGBT children in schools remains common. Attacks on schools by paramilitary groups invariably harm children and affect their education and well-being. The government’s call to lower the age of criminal responsibility from the current 15 years to 9 threatens to put more children behind bars, where they face heightened risk of abuse.
But the biggest challenge the action plan faces is the Duterte government itself. Its murderous “war on drugs” has brought untold misery to the families of mostly poor urban dwellers. Since the campaign against alleged drug dealers and users started two years ago, more than 12,000 people have perished, according to government data. A senator has put the death toll at more than 20,000. Children have been among those killed by the police and police-backed vigilantes. Many have been targeted, while others have been bystanders in police shootings, what some government officials call “collateral damage.”
In this hyper-violent climate, any campaign to protect children needs to emphasize justice and accountability. The International Criminal Court has already begun a preliminary examination of serious abuses connected with the Philippine drug war. The UN should launch its own independent inquiry. Tackling violence by relatives and acquaintances against children is difficult enough – violence by state officials should not be part of the problem.