By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Save the Children Philippines (SCP) urged local government units (LGUs) to pay more attention to children in their respective areas of jurisdiction during the duration of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation in the country.
For Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Atty. Alberto Muyo, local leaders and should also monitor the situation of children in their areas and address their needs and concerns amid the implementation of the ECQ.
“We call on the LGUs to ensure that children’s voices are heard to guide them in crafting effective measures and responses,” Muyot, a former Undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) said. “Children’s rights must be of paramount concern because they are the most vulnerable groups along with older persons and persons with disabilities,” he added.
Last week, the SCP conducted consultations with children on the impact of the ECQ. The result of the consultation, the group said, may serve as a guide to local leaders and LGUs to address the arising needs of children in their areas amid the ECQ.
What are children worried about?
Based on the consultations with children conducted by SCP, it was revealed that children are mostly worried about the lack of enough food and possibility of their loved ones getting infected with the deadly virus within the duration of the ECQ.
“Children worry over lack of food and are concerned that their loved ones may get infected by the COVID-19 virus,” SCP said in a statement.
The SCP’s Building Urban Children’s Resilience Against Shocks and Threats of Resettlement or “BURST” Project conducted the said consultation using online platforms, text messages and phone calls. The participants were children aged 11 to 17 years old coming from informal communities in Pasay City and relocation sites in Naic, Cavite.
SCP revealed that children who were consulted said most people in their neighborhood complain about their situation – particularly issues about “where to get food, how to survive, and the uncertainty of not knowing when the enhanced quarantine will end.”
Other concerns include their schooling and socializing with their peers. SCP noted that the respondents raised that the EQC forced them to miss out on school and how they are prohibited from going out of the house. “Children feel disconnected (from) their friends,” SCP pointed out.
SCP also noted other issues raised by children while they are at home. “Some children have to bear with extreme heat but cannot take a bath and maintain personal hygiene due to lack of water,” the the report cited.
Meanwhile, SCP noted that some children were also “distressed by circulating rumors and fake news and the lack of information in their communities.” Thus, the children are asking local officials to provide them accessible and child-friendly accurate information on what COVID-19 is, why the quarantine is being done, how the government is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and how they can protect themselves, and other children in their communities.
SCP said that most of the children respondents also observed that the relief goods being given to their families “are not enough” – noting that aside from food, many families also need medicines and healthier options such as vegetables.
To make their time more productive during the quarantine, children also urged local leaders to provide them with educational and leisure materials so they can continue learning.
Time to step up
Given all the concerns raised, Muyot called on local leaders to “ensure continuous delivery of basic services for children, including protection to prevent and address child abuse and exploitation while the quarantine is being implemented.”
Muyot noted that most parents and guardians have to work from home, while others face temporary loss of income while having to take care of children. “These uncertainties, coupled with stress have been challenging the capacity of parents for tolerance and may increase parental abuse and violence against children,” he said. “Children’s increased use of the internet during the quarantine places them at higher risk of online sexual abuse and exploitation,” he added.
SCP BURST Project Program Manager Lourdes Pambid added that it is also “vital to engage” children and their communities and to understand first-hand how their lives have been affected by the crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The results of consultation, Pambid explained, will provide guidance in planning child-based programs through a needs assessment with children’s participation as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds in the Philippines.
Pambid said children and their families in Cavite and Pasay urgently need relief assistance including food, and hygiene kits, and livelihood opportunities for parents and guardians. “Immediately, local leaders should ensure that relief assistance or child-sensitive cash transfers or vouchers are distributed to the poorest families to maintain their income sources and livelihood and, where possible, aligned with a longer-term government strategy on social protection,” she added.
Aside from that the consultation, SCP’s project also integrated the advocacy on how children and their families can protect themselves against the spread of virus through awareness on personal hygiene, social distancing, cough etiquette and how to ensure public health and safety in times of emergencies.