“We are here not because we pity you, we are here because you have human rights.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — The Philippine government is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and has ratified the human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.
May Baez, project coordinator of the Philippine NGO Coalition on the UNCRC said that with the ratification of the convention, the Philippines has obligations to ensure every Filipino child’s right.
But are the rights of children being protected by the Philippine government?
Child rights groups and advocates do not think so. The Save Our Schools Network cited that nine out of 10 Lumad children have no access to education. It also documented 233 cases of children’s rights violations from 2010 to 2015, and 87 schools that reported cases of military attacks.
“With the Philippine government’s ratification of the Convention, it binds itself to certain obligations like ensuring that Filipino children know their rights and that their rights are being protected,” said Baez in a forum dubbed as “Lumad schools: Sowing seeds of hope” last Oct. 21 at the University of the Philippines-Diliman.
She also said that the Philippine government also has an obligation to report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child every five years. The government’s last report to the Committee was in 2009.
Baez said in its report, it cited problems particularly in education such as lack of teachers and schools in the country, especially in the indigenous communities.
That is why, she said, they are glad to hear that the Lumad has made efforts in building their own school.
But attacking Lumad’s schools by state forces contradicts the UNCRC. The Philippine NGO Coalition, said Baez, has presented the plight of the Lumad and attacks against them to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of the internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani.
She said they are also planning to present the Lumad’s situation to the Committee on the Economic Social and Cultural Rights, where the Philippines is due to have a plenary session in March 2016.
General comment No. 1, Aims of Education
Baez said the Committee gives importance to the child’s right to education. In fact, she said, the Committee’s first General Comment is about the Aims of Education.
The General Comment is released by the Committee from time to further explain particular articles of the UNCRC. This will serve as guide to the governments who ratified the convention.
“That is how important education is in terms to children’s rights, the Committee first made a general comment when it comes to children’s right to education,” said Baez.
She said General Comment No. 1 is about Article 29 of the CRC which is right of education and right to education. The article said education “goes far beyond formal schooling to embrace the broad range of life experiences and learning processes which enable children, individually and collectively, to develop their personalities, talents and abilities and to live a full and satisfying life within society.”
It added, “The child’s right to education is not only a matter of access but also of content.”
“What’s also important is the content of the curriculum. There should be a balanced approach taking into consideration the different cultures, situations of the children,” said Baez.
Baez urged the government to investigate the cases on attacks on schools of the Lumad community. She said the Coalition will help them to hold perpetrators accountable for violating Lumad rights.
She said the Coalition has pointed out to the Department of Education, in a dialogue at the Commission on Human Rights, how the DepEd Memorandum 221 contradicts the children’s right to education.
“It was like a subtext that says that the military can use the school as long as they ask permission from the principal. We told the DepEd to disregard this memorandum and make another one that ensures that no military operations will be held inside the schools,” said Baez.
She urges the government to have awareness on the six grave violations of children’s rights in the areas where there is armed conflict.
“In order to advance the goal of protecting children during armed conflict and ending the impunity of perpetrators, the United Nations Security Council identified six categories of violations – the so-called six grave violations,” the website of the UN read.
The six grave rights are:
Killing and maiming children
Recruitment or use of children as soldiers;
Sexual violence against children;
Attacks against schools or hospitals;
Abduction of children.
She also urged the government to be a signatory to the Safe Schools Declaration, which was signed by 37 countries.
The Safe Schools Declaration was developed through state consultations led by Norway and Argentina in Geneva throughout the first half of 2015. The Safe Schools Declaration states that the “opportunity to express broad political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict, and is the instrument for states to endorse and commit to implement the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.”
Baez also cited the Third Optional Protocol on Communications Procedure, which allows children from states that have ratified it to bring complaints about violation of their rights directly to the UNCRC if they have not found a solution at a national level. “We hope that the Lumad children can bring their complaint to the UN,” she said.