|Priority Legislative Agenda for Children for the 16th Congress|
Through Presidential Decree No. 603 (Child and Youth Welfare Code), as amended, the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) was created and mandated to address issues and concerns on children through policy formulation, plan development and coordination and monitoring the enforcement of various laws and policies on children.
Moreover, as a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) , the Philippines has committed to undertake all appropriate legislative and other measures for the implementation of children’s rights. These also include our adherence to other international standards and instruments where we are part of.
In the fulfillment of its functions, CWC continually and periodically develops the Legislative Agenda for Children as basis for the enactment of laws that not only give priority to children but address the prevailing and emerging issues and concerns on them. It also serves as basis for advocacy to both the legislative and executive branches of government for developing corresponding legislative and policy measures that would respond to issues and concerns on them.
To date, the Philippine legal framework is noteworthy with its legislative initiatives for children. However, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) remains concerned that efforts still need to be done in bringing the national legislation into full conformity and harmony with the CRC’s provisions and principles.
Upon review of the CWC Secretariat, the following are the priority items to be advocated by the CWC in its Legislative Agenda for Children for the 16th Congress:
1. Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (CSAC):
Enacted into law in 1992, Republic Act No. 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act) provides that children, especially in situations of armed conflict, are declared as zones of peace. As such, they are not to be the object of attack and are entitled to special respect. They shall be protected from any form of threat, assault, torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. They are not to be recruited to become members of the governmental armed forces and its civilian units or other armed groups, nor be allowed to take part in the fighting, or used as guides, couriers, or spies.
However, the UN CRC, in its concluding observation on the CRC implementation by the Philippines on the matter, among others, finds the ambiguity of the said law, particularly in Article 10. While it prohibits recruitment and use of children, it does not provide sanctions for doing so. Thus, it was recommended that the Philippines push for a legislative measure to address such ambiguity, especially in the light of the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. It particularly recommended amending RA 7610 so as to ensure that children are not accused as criminals for having been recruited or used in armed hostilities.
The UN CRC also calls to strengthen existing measures aimed at the demobilization of such recruited children, their physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration as they are also victims. These include measures to address the situation of displacement of children and to ensure their access to social and health services, education and to development. This is also in accordance with the International Humanitarian Law.
Moreover, there is a need to establish a Monitoring, Reporting, and Response System for Grave Child Rights Violations in Situations of Armed Conflict (MRRS-GCRVSAC) in accordance with the UN Security Council resolutions on the matter. The primary objective of the MRRS-GCRVSAC is to protect CSAC by preventing occurrence of grave child rights violations and ensuring the provision of appropriate and timely response in the event of such violations. It shall likewise generate standard data and information that will serve as a major primary government source on all matters pertaining to such violations.
The CWC would serve as the focal agency for the MRRS-GCRVSAC to be established. As such, it would establish the appropriate coordinative network at the national and local levels, and to formulate the comprehensive program framework for children in situations of armed conflict which includes, among others, measures to address grave child rights violations.
2. Promoting Positive and Non-Violent Discipline of Children:
Corporal punishment is the deliberate infliction of pain and suffering, usually physical, intended to change a person's behavior or to punish them, especially on children. In the Philippines, corporal punishment is used on children at the home, but prohibited at school. The parents use belts, their hands, and caning to discipline their children. As provided for in PD 603, parents have the right to discipline their child as may be necessary for the formation of their good character, particularly obedience.
However, the UN CRC recommended that States parties to the CRC, the Philippines among them, to prohibit corporal punishment, including humiliating or degrading punishments and other forms of violence against children. To punish the child, even in the context of discipline, through physical, emotional or psychological harm, is clearly a violation of the most basic of human rights. Research has found that corporal punishment is counterproductive and relatively ineffective, as well as dangerous and harmful to the child’s physical, psychological and social well being. Thus, it was recommended the prohibition of corporal punishment in the homes, schools, institutions, at work and in detention centers.
As an alternative to corporal punishment and as prevention of its use in all settings, there is a need to institutionalize positive and non–violent discipline and establish necessary structures and mechanisms and mobilization of resources to make this possible. Such protective measures include effective procedures for the establishment of social programs to provide necessary support for the child and for those who care for the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow–up of instances of child maltreatment, and, as appropriate, for legal or judicial action.
As part of institutionalizing positive and non-violent discipline, the UN CRC, in its general comment on the right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, recommends, among others, to all State parties to the CRC to ensure that positive, non-violent relationships and education are consistently promoted to parents, carers, teachers and all others who work with children and families. It emphasizes that the CRC requires the elimination not only of corporal punishment but of all other cruel or degrading punishment of children.
3. Revision of the Local Government Code relative to the inclusion of specific provisions on the following:
a. Increase protection of children with corresponding fund allocation:
The UN CRC notes with concern that the budgetary allocations for children’s social services, health services and education have decreased in terms of percentage of the national budget. In this regard, it also reiterated its concern that the Philippines allocates more than 30 percent of its national budget to debt service-interest payment and that the share allocated to debt-servicing has increased over the last years. Thus, it urges the Philippines to prioritize and increase budgetary allocations for children at national and local levels.
RA 7160 (Local Government Code of the Philippines of 1991, with Secs. 41 (b) and 43 as amended by R.A. 8553) mandates the LGUs to discharge the functions and responsibilities devolved to them from the national government, which include basic services, particularly health, education and social services for children’s welfare. With the increased budget allocation as recommended above, the LGUs would be able to give priority to children so as to ensure the promotion and protection of their rights as such depend upon resources for their fulfillment which entails costs. A budget for children will be a concrete instrument that could accurately measure the local governments’ commitments and efforts to advance the rights of children among their constituencies.
In the context of the decentralization according to RA 7160, the UN CRC also recommends that the Philippines should ensure transparent and participatory budgeting through public dialogue and participation, especially of children, and for proper accountability by local authorities.
To reflect the above recommendations, RA 7160 should be amended by the following:
§ Though not prescribing an exact percentage, there should be a provision that would authorize an increase in the levels in the annual expenditures and ceilings of spending for social services, which include those intended for children, to be recommended to the local chief executives concerned based on the approved local development plans as among the functions by local financial committees, thus making local budget allocation more responsive to children’s needs. Such increase, as determined by the capacity of the LGUs concerned, should be made a priority in the local budgets; and
§ There should be a provision for the LCPCs and NGOs, as well as children themselves, to be involved in budget preparations processes of the LGUs at all levels to strengthen their participation in such.
In the revision of the Local Government Code, we should be able to advocate for the formulation of LGUs’ annual budget and plans and within the context of their mandates mainstream children’s perspectives in their policies, programs and projects.
b. Ensure appointment of registered social workers as head of the Local Social Welfare and Development Offices.
Cognizant of the key role of the Local Social Welfare and Development Offices in terms of promoting and protecting the rights of children at the local level, it is being pushed that strict adherence and implementation of the R.A. 9433 or the Magna Carta of Public Social Workers be done.
Section 5 of the said law, provides that all government social work agencies and institutions shall be headed by registered social workers except for cabinet and non-career positions.
The repeated concerns of children with disability (CWD) focus primarily on early detection and intervention, education of CWD, accessibility, and the provision of government services such as health among others.
Hence, compulsory disability screening of children and the inclusion of “disability component” in all programs and services of the government is being called for. The screening will respond to the national issue of non-identification of disability among children and the high cost of a formal diagnosis of disability. The disability component will address non-inclusion of disability in the mainstream programs and services of the government and will promote basic knowledge and understanding on disability and the different issues related to disability.
The age for our present law on statutory rape is 12 years old. However, this is not a deterrent as studies show that there are more reported rape cases committed against children between ages 13–15 years old. To give the law more teeth, it is proposed to amend Article 335 of Act No. 3815 (Revised Penal Code), as amended, by raising the age on statutory rape from twelve (12) years old to at least fifteen (15) years old.
Pegging the age higher will provide greater protection against child abuse as more violators will be covered as its coverage will be expanded. Also, the victims will have more courage to pursue their cases rather than suffer silently. Their cases can be proven easily as the only requirements to ensure conviction are carnal knowledge and the victim being under 15. With this, offenders will have second thoughts in committing such crime against children below 15 years old.