LET US NOT FAIL OUR CHILDREN

Mr. President, I rise on a point of personal and collective privilege. Today, we celebrate the United Nation's Universal Children's Day. The month of November also marks the celebration of National Children's Month in accordance with Republic Act No. 10661 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.

This declaration commemorates the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989, and seeks to instill its significance in the Filipino consciousness. The Senate is not only called upon to celebrate this important event, but to maximize its powers of oversight to safeguard and protect the rights of all Filipino children, regardless of gender, status, background and circumstances.

Mr. President, bukod sa pagdiriwang, ngayon ay araw ng dakilang pag-gunita para sa mga batang inabuso, pinagkaitan ng magandang kinabukasan at ninakawan ng buhay.

Today, we remember 4-year old Althea Fhem Barbon who died from a gunshot wound as she went out to buy popcorn with her father who was a target of a buy-bust operation. Today, we remember 5-year old Danica Mae Garcia who was preparing to go to school when two motorcycle-riding men barged into their home and opened-fire at her grandfather hitting her in the head. Today, we remember 5-year old Francis Manosca who was sleeping with his mother and other siblings when a bullet intended for his father was fired through a closed window, killing him instead. Today, we remember 17-year old Kian Delos Santos who was captured on CCTV being dragged by the police and later found dead in a nearby vacant lot with several bullet wounds piercing his body. Today, we remember them and all the children and the youth who fell victims to extra judicial killings. May this remembrance come with a commitment to honor them by seeking justice for the violence that took them away from their loved ones, and robbed them of what may have been a fulfilling life.

Mr. President, today is a good day to be reminded of the state's responsibility to "provide special protection to children from all forms of abuse, neglect, cruelty exploitation and discrimination and other conditions, prejudicial to their development."

The numbers yielded by the 2016 National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children conducted by the Council for the Welfare of Children, UNICEF, and other government and CSO partners paint a disturbing picture. Three in 5 Filipino children experience physical violence, with more than half of this happening where children should feel the safest, in their homes.

Sexual violence is experienced by 1 in every 5 Filipino children below the age of 18. As it victimizes both girls and boys, sexual violence chooses no gender. The age of sexual consent and the age of statutory rape in our country is a related concern. At 12 years old, ours is among the lowest in the world. This low level of legal protection presents greater risks to children for sexual exploitation and abuse.

The vulnerability of our LGBT children to all forms of violence should likewise be underscored. Not only are they subjected to physical and psychological violence, but almost one-third suffer from sexual violence. We also need to expand our understanding of the definition of child pornography to include, for instance livestreaming of sexual acts. Rapid technological advancements have abetted the rise of online violence. While we can take comfort that we have laws like the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 and the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 lack of public awareness and the weak enforcement of these laws have rendered our children more vulnerable to sexual violence and cyber-bullying.

Mr. President, with these alarming realities of violence against children in our country, we need to ensure the implementation of the Philippine Plan of Action to End Violence against Children which seeks to address socio-economic risks by ensuring that economic policies have clear connections to reducing violence against children, promote a safe environment for our children, ensure that child protection systems are functional by exercising oversight powers and strengthen our justice system particularly our family courts so that victims of severe cases of violence are swiftly resolved in the best interest of the child.

Mr. President, and esteemed colleagues in the Senate, violence against children is all around us, happening in all spheres of their young life - at home, in school and the community, the workplace, in the digital environment, and in institutions. This exposure to violence is without regard to a child's gender, status, background and circumstances in our country. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse and online violence create lasting emotional and psychological scars, and victims may themselves later on become perpetrators of violence as a result of their experiences. The burden of violence to society comes at an immense cost in the form of additional expenses on health care, child welfare support services, as well as the increased costs to the criminal justice system when child victims are at an increased risk of becoming children in conflict with the law, among others. Our country loses when abused children are less able to contribute, and become unproductive members of their community.

Mr. President and honorable members of the Senate, let us act now, let us address these challenges, let us protect and empower all children to allow them to thrive as individuals who have rights and have the enormous potential as human beings. Let us not fail our children by protecting their welfare and well-being. Let us not fail the future of this nation.

Thank you.

Source: Senate of the Philippines

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