A child rights group welcomed the new guidelines issued by the government ordering local leaders and law enforcement officers to treat children who were found violating curfew regulations under the community quarantine “humanely and with dignity.”
Save the Children Philippines (SCP) lauded the move of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in issuing new guidelines which mandate barangay leaders and law enforcement officers to observe rules that do not harm and threaten children.
The new rules, issued last June 23, were based on the provisions of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act or Republic Act 9344, as amended by RA 10630. The guidelines will apply to children in street situations, those in conflict with the law, and children at risks or those abandoned and vulnerable to physical, sexual, and economic exploitation.
SCP Chief Executive Officer Atty. Alberto Muyot explained the COVID-19 pandemic is already taking a “toll on children’s lives as they missed out on classes, and their mobility was curtailed thus, preventing them to go out of homes and interact with others, causing them psychosocial distress.”
“Children who allegedly violated curfew rules, or those in street situations must not be placed behind bars or under harsh and inhumane conditions without consideration of their rights,” Muyot said.
Muyot, a former Undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), said the pandemic also continues to worsen hunger and malnutrition among children belonging to low income families and whose parents or guardians have lost income or livelihood due to the quarantine. This, he added, has forced minors to leave home to help look for food and income for their families.
Instead of “inhumane” treatment of children who violated quarantine rules, Muyot said that the barangay leaders and law enforcement officers should instead “protect these children by turning them over to their parents, guardians, or social welfare office.”
The new DILG rules also direct authorities to endorse the child to the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC) or to the Barangay Violence against Women and Children (VAWC) desk officer. “We commit to monitor the enforcement of these new guidelines to ensure that the basic right of children to be protected is fulfilled and respected,” Muyot said.
Respect children’s rights at all times
For SCP Child Protection Manager Jerly Villanada, the BCPC should implement projects to increase children’s understanding of the risks of COVID-19 and their important role in mitigating its spread. “The rights of boys and girls who allegedly committed violations should, at all times, be paramount in the handling and managing of their cases,” she added.
Villanada noted that barangay leaders must promote values formation, psychosocial and mental health support, and volunteerism among children and their parents or guardians. They should also use of simple, child-friendly language or dialect when being brought to the barangay office. “Further, they must introduce themselves properly to the child without use of vulgar or profane words, or sexually harassing or abusing the child,” she said.
SCP added that law enforcement officers should also avoid the “display and use of firearms, weapons, or handcuffs on minors, unless absolutely necessary and only after all other methods have been exhausted.”
The additional guidelines will be integrated in the Joint Memorandum Circular of DILG and Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) dated April 6, 2020 on the protocol on reaching out to children in street situations, in need of special protection, children at risk, and children in conflict with the law.
Earlier, SCP has strongly denounced “harsh and inhumane treatment” against children such as those reportedly placed in coffins, dog cages, and stripped naked after being apprehended by law enforcers during the ECQ. The group has also been urging the government to address the issue of rising cases of violence against children during the ECQ.