“As children, we have the right to participate and be heard.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Daysire Joy Crenshaw, 12 years old is anxious about her future. A year ago, she lost her mother, one of the Kentex workers who were trapped and killed inside the factory when fire struck. Her aunt, an overseas Filipino worker in South Korea, is helping her, but she also has other children to raise. Although Daysire has her grandparents, she fears they do not earn enough and may not be able to send her to college.
“I dream of becoming a flight attendant or a fashion model someday,” Crenshaw, shyly told Bulatlat in an interview.
Many more children like her fear that they might not finish their studies, as the K to 12 program added two years to the 10 years of basic education in the country.
Kharlo Manano, secretary general of the child rights advocacy group Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, said Crenshaw’s situation is further aggravated by the intensifying crisis confronting poor Filipino families.
In this year’s national elections, Manano said, there is a need for the public, specially candidates, to address the “appalling condition of marginalized children,” which has not changed even under President Aquino’s “daang matuwid” (righteous path).
Salinlahi and other child’s rights groups presented the Ulat Bulilit series 5 entitled, “Bata. Boto. Balota. The 2016 Filipino children’s agenda” held at the UP Balay Kalinaw on March 4.
“Under the Aquino government, children and their families plunged into deeper poverty and were subjected to violence with impunity,” said Manano.
He urged voters to be more critical in selecting national leaders as the succeeding administration’s policies and programs will definitely impact the lives of children.
‘Parents, struggling to support their children’
Manano said the lack of regular decent jobs and economic opportunities in the country has immensely intensified the difficulties confronting poor Filipino families.
Citing the latest survey of independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, Manano said, seven out of 10 Filipinos rate themselves as poor. And when the parents lack means to support its family, the children are greatly affected.
The Social Weather Survey found during the last quarter of 2015 that 12 percent or an estimated 2.6 million families are experiencing involuntary hunger. Under the Aquino administration, the highest recorded hunger rate was 24 percent in March 2012.
The National Nutrition Council (NNC) says almost four million Filipino children are estimated to be suffering from malnutrition. Of these, 3.4 million children are stunted, or shorter than the average height for their age, while more than 300,000 children are wasted, or with a lower weight for the average height.
What makes their conditions worse, said Manano, is the implementation of various “anti-people” programs adhering to neo-liberal globalization — such as liberalization of trade and investments, deregulation, and privatization of services — for the benefit of merely a few. He said these policies only exacerbate the deplorable living conditions of the poor majority.
Manano cited the K to 12 program, which has been opposed by several groups, not only because it added two more years, but also because the senior high school would be offered mainly by private schools.
“With their parents either unemployed or surviving on very low wages, they could hardly support their children’s education. Public school education, though free, entails other expenses for frequent school projects and other miscellaneous fees, not including transportation and food expenses of schooling children,” Manano said.
He also cited the 2013 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey (FLEMMS) which said one in every ten or about four million Filipino children and youth was out-of-school in 2013. Manano said this number will surely soar in the coming years with the full implementation of the K to 12 program.
The survey covered around 36 million individuals aged six to 24 years.
“The K to 12 has further enshrined that the privilege of attaining education are only for those who can afford it,” he added.
Manano said children are forced to work at an early age in order to contribute to their families’ income. He said that 5.5 million Filipino children are toiling in factories, plantations, haciendas and mines.
Many children also continue to be involved in petty crimes and other anti-social activities, such as robbery and drug peddling, while some are trafficked and exploited in commercial sex work.
An increasing number of children are also being preyed upon for child pornography and other related commercial sex activities. According to the data released by Philippine National Police- Anti- Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG), the number of children forced into cyber pornography has increased to 136 in 2015 from 87 children in 2014.
Manano also said the number of cases of violence against women and children (VAWC) is increasing. Seven out of 10 rape victims are children. Rape cases increased by 92 percent from 5,132 in 2010 to 9,875 in 2014. He also noted rape cases involving state armed forces, including the case of a 15-year-old Lumad girl gang-raped by 3 soldiers in Davao del Norte last year.
“Bilang bata, karapatan namin ang makilahok at mapakinggan!” (As children, we have the right to participate and be heard) said Vincent Diaz, 14-year old child representative to the Salinlahi National Executive Council and spokesperson of Samahan ng mga Batang Lumalaban sa Kahirapan (SBLK).
“The Filipino Children’s Agenda 2016 reflects our condition for the past years, most especially our demands. Together let us push for a genuine agenda of the Filipino children — because what we want is a government that protects the people, especially the children and the next generation,” Diaz said in Filipino.
Through spoken poetry, children from various sectors – workers, peasants, urban poor, human rights victims and typhoon Yolanda survivors – narrated their demands.
“We children want our family to rise from poverty, we want jobs and living wages for our family, land for the farmers, free and decent housing, free education and health services, respect for our rights and safe and peaceful surroundings,” the children read a Tagalog poem in unison.
During the forum, Salinlahi together with other child rights advocates pledged to uphold the children’s agenda. “Even after the May elections, we owe it to the Filipino children to safeguard their rights and welfare,” Manano said.