By Gabriela Baron
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) urged the government to protect Filipino children who may be experiencing maltreatment, violence, and exploitation while the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is in place.
“The government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus are vital to the health of the country’s population, but they are also exposing children to increased risk of violence—including maltreatment, gender-based violence, and sexual exploitation,” UNICEF said.
The UN agency added that movement restrictions, school closure, loss of income, isolation, overcrowding, and high levels of stress and anxiety brought by the pandemic are increasing the likelihood that children experience and observe physical, psychological, and sexual abuse at home.
Children deprived of liberty due to ECQ
UNICEF urged the Philippine government to report on the number of children deprived of their liberty or held because of violations of the ECQ measures.
“Children in detention are also particularly vulnerable during these difficult times. Many are held in confined and over-crowded spaces, conditions that are highly conductive to the spread of disease like COVID-19,” it added
“UNICEF is further recommending to the Philippine government to align with global guidance to release children in conflict with the law, and immediately adopt and implement guidelines to protect children against COVID-19 for those whose continuing detention will be required by law,” the agency said.
Children exposed to dangers online
Online communities have become central to maintain many children’s learning, support, and play, however, UNICEF said that it is also increasing their exposure to cyberbullying, risky online behavior, and sexual exploitation.
UNICEF added that reports of online sexual exploitation have increased since the COVID-19 quarantine.
The UN agency, together with the Australian Embassy, Save the Children, and the Asia Foundation, launched SaferKidsPH, a campaign that addresses online sexual exploitation and abuse of children by raising national awareness of the problem and supporting stronger implementation of laws and policies that protect children.
UNICEF appealed to local government units to ensure that there is a “protective and caring environment” for children at all times.
“We encourage all local government units to implement the recently launched Joint Memorandum Circular that shall protect the best interest of children, by ensuring that they are physically, emotionally, and psychologically protected all the time,” said Patrizia Benvenuti, UNICEF Philippines chief of Child Protection Section.
“UNICEF supports the Philippine Government in fighting COVID-19 by complementing the government’s response through technical assistance, provision of essential supplies, and support for logistics and transportation, effective communication of safe practices to families, as well as ensuring that the rights of children and their families are protected,” Benvenuti added.