LGUs urged to protect children from violence, malnutrition in COVID-19 response

By Merlina Hernando-Malipot

Following the extension of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) until May 15 in Metro Manila and key areas with high rates of infection, Save the Children Philippines (SCP) on Saturday called on local community leaders to resume health and nutrition services for children such as immunization, maternal and new-born care, as well as protection of children from violence as part of the COVID-19 response.

SCP chief executive officer Atty. Alberto Muyot said many people perceive that children are not affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But in reality, children, mostly those who come from low-income families and living in hard-to-reach areas, face the long-term and irreversible impact of stunting, which is the “worst form” of malnutrition due to prolonged hunger and undernutrition.

“We understand that the decision to extend the enhanced community quarantine in key areas with high COVID-19 cases will help save lives, but child-centered services must immediately resume in all barangays to make sure children from low income families will not die from preventable causes, many of which are aggravated by severe malnutrition,” said Muyot, who is also a former undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd).

Muyot also underscored that the COVID-19 pandemic response, especially of the LGUs, must safeguard children’s rights to survive, learn, and be protected.

Child malnutrition in the Philippines is one of the highest in the world with one in three children below five years old is stunted.

In 2018, at least 48.2 percent of infants age six to 11 months have anemia due to poor feeding practices and inadequate food intake.

“The loss of income by thousands of families, especially the vulnerable groups, can immediately translate into not being able to put food on the table resulting to thousands of children going to bed hungry,” said Muyot, as he called on the local government officials to expedite the release of cash assistance and other economic support to qualified families under the social amelioration program.

He also said local governments should integrate protection of children from violence, abuse, or exploitation as part of the COVID-19 pandemic community response.

“Many children may suffer and witness abuse and violence at home due to heightened stress, anger, and anxiety of parents and guardians following the loss of jobs and livelihood, and the uncertainty of how to provide for their family,” said Muyot.

Save the Children Philippines believes that children’s rights must be at the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic response to ensure that an entire generation does not suffer the catastrophic, long-term consequences of the outbreak. To meet their needs, children also need to be involved in preventing the spread of the virus and in mitigating the impact of the disease.