THE COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS OF THE PHILIPPINES
on the Occasion of the Regional Trainings
on Child Perspective, Child Participation and Juvenile Justice.
Davao City, 30 June – 4 July 2008
Cebu City, 7 July – 11 July 2008
ATTY. LEILA M. DE LIMA
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
A pleasant morning to all of you gathered here today.
For some of you, this is the first time I will be addressing you as the new Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights. Therefore, let me take this opportunity to extend my pledge of solidarity with you.
The Child Rights Center (CRC) of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has assembled us all here in Davao (Cebu) in pursuit of its mandate to conduct trainings to personnel involved in the handling of cases involving children’s rights.
The CHR, through the Child Rights Center, “envisions a Philippine society where children are protected, nurtured and developed to their full potential through the promotion, protection, fulfillment and realization of their rights.”
The CRC has two main functions. First, as Ombudsman for Children; and, second, as a Focal Institution.
As Ombudsman for Children, it represents the rights and interests of children, performs the role of “voice of Filipino children” and “watchdog of children’s rights, monitors government compliance, provides a channel for children’s views, empowers children to participate; and contributes in influencing law, policy and practice to safeguard the rights and promote the welfare of children.
As a Focal Institution, it is a child-friendly facility, and a repository of information, studies, standards, mechanisms and good practices relevant in the promotion and protection of children’s rights. It coordinates various offices within the CHRP, and liaises with government, civil society groups and the community to develop programs in the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
At least, that’s what it says on paper.
In order to realize our vision of a child-friendly society, and fulfilling our mandate as Ombudsman for Children and as a Focal Institution, we must first recognize our limitations, become aware of our weaknesses, and make a commitment to rise above them. To do that, we must contend with harsh reality.
I hate to say this, but I have to. The CRC, the institution tasked with performing these numerous and vital roles, is grossly undermanned and inadequately equipped.
The Center does not even have the most basic of needs, such as a phone line of its own, a fax machine or an office space of its own. How, then, can it realistically fulfill its role as a coordinating and liaising office, or as a channel for children’s views? How can it even honestly describe itself as a “child-friendly facility”? How can it effectively monitor government compliance and preserve a databank of vital information?
The simple answer is: it hardly can.
In fact, according to the Concluding Observations on the Philippines of the 48th Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child dated 6 June 2008, one of the Committee’s recommendations is that the State party (the Philippines) expand and strengthen its data collection, monitoring and reporting mechanisms, by providing further human, financial and technical resources to enhance the data collection system of the Commission on Human Rights.
But don’t get me wrong please. I know that the CRC is manned by two competent and dedicated lawyers with common support from an Executive Assistant – Designate. I wish that it has more support staff, including child psychologists.
By CRC’s own admission, it is “highly improbable to perform its mandated tasks on a nationwide scale.” Thus far, therefore, it has had to rely on the aid, resources and facilities of the Regional Offices.
We are not, however, without the means to address and augment our present shortcomings. It is at this time that we are most appreciative of the aid proffered by our experienced strategic partners. For this reason, we are very grateful for this Cooperation Agreement with the Barnombudsmannen (Office of the Children’s Ombudsman of Sweden) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). It could not have come at a more opportune time.
The Cooperation Agreement, as a project directed specifically to providing institutional support to the CHR towards the strengthening of the Child Rights Center, is a very welcome development, not just to the Commission on Human Rights, but to the Filipino society itself. This event, in particular, attends to one of our most pressing needs: the training of our key personnel on Child Perspective, Child Participation and Juvenile Justice.
These three aspects of Children’s Rights are just some of the Philippines’ obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which came into force on 2 September 1990 after 20 States legally endorsed the Convention. In order to aid State-parties in complying with their commitments under the Convention, four universal and forward-looking principles were formulated:
First is the principle of non-discrimination. Under Article 2, States parties must ensure that all children within their jurisdiction enjoy their rights.
Second is the principle of the best interests of the child. When the authorities of a State take decisions which affect children, the best interests of children must be a primary consideration. This is a fundamental message of the Convention.
Third is the right to life, survival and development. This includes formulations about the right to survival and to development, which should be ensured “to the maximum extent possible.”
Fourth, the views of the child. This means that children should be free to have opinions in all matters affecting them, and those views should be given due weight “in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” Hence, the focus on child perspective and participation.
However, by all accounts, these goals are still in the process of being realized. The current state of affairs is far from being ideal.
In the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices released by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor for 2007, the Philippines was identified as having problems such as abuse of children, child prostitution, trafficking in persons, and child labor.
According to the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as of 2007, the country’s population is estimated at 88,461,700. Of this number, 43.3% or 38.3 million are eighteen (18) years old and below. In 2003, around 3.4 million children aged five (5) years and below were underweight; 1.1 million children were not immunized for childhood diseases; 1.4 million children of elementary school age were not enrolled, and there were 2,800 reported maternal deaths. Thirty-six (36) out of one hundred (100) new elementary school children do not finish elementary schooling and 65 do not complete high school. Annual abortion cases are estimated at 473,000. There are 2.6 million unregistered children in the country, the majority of which are Muslim and Indigenous People (IP) children.
Of late, recent events have put the issue of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) at the forefront of our minds as a nation. However, what is not as well-known is the fact that EJKs have posed dangers to minors and young people as well. A report from the NGO Karapatan showed that out of 185 cases of EJKs from January to November 2006, seventeen (17) were minors, students and youth.
The number of children displaced by armed conflict every year during the last four years is estimated at around 30,000 to 50,000. In fact, in a recent advisory released by the CHR on the topic of Human Rights and Military Operations, the Commission had occasion to point out that children are among the first to suffer the effects of military operations.
Based on reports from government and NGOs, there were 186 documented cases of children involved in armed conflict (CIAC) for the period of 2001-2006. According to The Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers , the Philippines was identified as one of the countries where children are recruited and used by paramilitaries, militias, and civilian defense forces or armed groups linked to, supported by, or acting as proxies for governments. They are also recruited by non-state armed groups like the New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). We are listed along with countries like Myanmar, Colombia, Sudan and Uganda.
Still on the area of CIACs, I strongly feel that the CHR, through the CRC, should be an active player in the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanics (“MRM”).
A study commissioned by UNICEF in 2001 estimated the number of street children at 246,000 in the major Philippine major cities, with Metro Manila, Metro Cebu, and Metro Davao having the largest numbers. Out of this number, about 50,000 were considered “highly visible street children”
The 2001 survey on working children reported that there were 4.0 million working children, of which 2.4million working children or 59.4% were exposed to hazardous environment. Mining, quarrying, deep sea fishing, commercial agriculture particularly sugarcane plantations, domestic work, pyrotechnics and commercial sexual exploitation have been identified as among the worst forms of child labor. According to a regional official of the United Nations’ International Labor Organization, although the number of Filipino children in the labor force declined from 2003 to 2005, the education department data showed that the school participation rate dropped to a seven-year low of 38.22% in the 2006-2007 school year.
Children in conflict with the law (CICL) are likewise vulnerable to abuse and violence and other instances of human rights violations. With regards to the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act, its author, Senator Francis Pangilinan himself, conceded that the law is far from perfect, much less is its implementation. Despite the enactment of the law, by the own account of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), a total of 551 CICLs are still detained in various facilities nationwide pending the processing of their release as of June 2007.
Reports from the Regional Offices on the status of cases involving minors pending before them indicate that human rights violations are still being perpetrated against minors. These include the infliction of physical and psychological harm, economic abuse, abuse of chastity, illegal deprivation of liberty, and recruitment of child soldiers.
It is hard enough to understand how civilized people could commit such acts against children, what is even more incomprehensible is discovering who the usual perpetrators are. These violent and morally reprehensible acts are being committed, not just by strangers, but by parents, teachers, authorities like the PNP, the armed forces, and even by some minors themselves.
I am aware that I probably need not remind you of all these. That some of you know this better than others. That what are simple statistics to others is the reality you deal with on a daily basis. Yet, I take this opportunity to bring these issues and information to the attention of all the participants in order to ignite your passions as true advocates for children’s rights.
On the side of legal advocacy, I expect this five-day exercise to examine and assimilate the fine points and salient provisions of recent legislative and judicial issuances, such as R.A. 9344 (or the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006), R.A 9262 (or the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004), R.A. 9208 (or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003), the Rules on Juveniles in Conflict with the Law, Commitment of Children, and Examination of a Child Witness.
Although the future belongs to the youth, the duty and obligation to ensure that every child is, to quote the Preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, “fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity” belongs to us today.
We must act. Whatever we may learn in the course of this week-long activity, it will all be for naught if we do not take it in the spirit it is given: the spirit of cooperation and open-mindedness towards the best interests of our children.
In closing, may I echo what was contained in our opening prayer earlier – Life is not a pointless venture. Life has a purpose. Let’s live a purpose-driven life!
Thank you, and a productive week ahead of us!