Observe child protection laws during quarantine – rights groups 

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

“Punitive act in any circumstances won’t discourage children from doing wrong. You should educate them well. A militarist approach won’t solve this pandemic.”

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL

MANILA – Child rights groups reminded government officials to always observe child protection laws in enforcing rules during the enhanced community quarantine.

Child groups expressed concern after receiving reports of violations against children since the imposition of the Luzon-wide lockdown on March 16.

Child Rights Network (CRN) cited social media posts such as locking up children in a dog cage in Laguna, and placing children in a coffin in Cavite for supposedly violating curfew hours.

“We believe that many more cruel and inhumane measures are being imposed and such incidents go unreported, especially in far-flung communities,” the CRN said in a statement.

In a separate statement, Human Rights Watch said, “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.”

The CRN called on barangay officials and authorities to observe laws protecting children such as Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, RA 10821 or the Children’s Relief and Protection Act of 2016, and Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006.

The network also reiterated the call of United Nations to respect human rights in imposing measures in containing the coronovirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

UN reminds States to respect human rights amid COVID-19 measures

‘Education, not punishment’

Meanwhile, Eule Rico Bonganay, secretary general of Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns urged local officials teach the children of their wrongdoings in a proper way than punishing them.

Bonganay explained that the lockdown was abrupt therefore children are adjusting from being free to roam around the community to being confined at home. He added that children in the community have become restless with the militarist approach of the government as response to the pandemic.

“Punitive act in any circumstances won’t discourage children from doing wrong. You should educate them well. A militarist approach won’t solve this pandemic,” he said.

Human Rights Watch said that children should not face criminal sanction for violating emergency measures.

Clear-cut guidelines needed

The CRN urged the government to have clear-cut guidelines that put premium on fundamental rights, especially children’s rights, alongside health and economic intervention.

They proposed that Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC) and Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) be the key government agencies to craft the guidelines to ensure child rights perspective.

They also also urged local government units should craft their own guidelines in consonance with DSWD’s Administrative Order 09-2009 or the “Standards for Community Based Services for Street Children, Council for the Welfare of Children’s “Protocol to Reach Out to Street Children,” (as stated in CWC Board Resolution No. 2-2011), and the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council’s Protocol in Handling Children Violating Local Ordinance.

The group called on the government to enforce the following for more effective and responsive intervention for children:

– Make sure that the management of cases of abuse and exploitation of children and the provision of response services are continuing despite the challenge of physical distancing and enhanced community quarantine. Existing protocols need to adapt to the needs of times to continue protecting children.

– Protect children in a proactive manner from all forms of abuse – both online or offline. The enhanced community quarantine has also given rise to cases of online sexual exploitation of children. Children, especially from poor segments of society, are highly vulnerable to these exploitative acts in times of crisis, as it can be viewed as a way to survive at a time when their parents are hampered from earning a living.

– Develop easy-to-reach monitoring mechanisms and share to the public for full transparency and accountability.

– Institute programs that will support parents and guardians on handling children’s anxiety, confusion, fear, and boredom, should also be implemented on a national scale, to ensure that even at home, children are not only protected from domestic abuse and exploitation, but their holistic development also continue in terms of ensuring proper nutrition and health and sanitation (including educating parents on optimal breastfeeding practices such as exclusive breastfeeding), instilling positive discipline, and fostering a nurturing environment.

– Provide children and infants with clean, age and culture-appropriate and nutritionally-adequate food assistance (Nutrition Cluster Advisory No 01 series 2020).

– Include the needs of children with disabilities when developing alternative resources for learning. ()

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