Various groups on Friday urged the government, particularly the Department of Education (DepEd), to recognize the “soaring and alarming” proliferation of child abuses and exploitation deemed related to the opening of classes this upcoming school year.
Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns, in a press conference via Zoom, said that it is currently monitoring several cases in which children and parents were forced to engage in illicit activities to earn money to enable them to buy gadgets for online classes.
“We are now handling a case of a 13-year-girl who was raped by a man who promised to give her a smartphone for her online classes,” said Salinlahi Secretary General Eule Rico Bonganay. “DepEd should consider the tremendous effects of the pandemic on children — from the mental health aspect to the financial capacities of their families,” he added.
National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) President Raoul Manuel also alleged that some “students are selling nudes photos online just to buy laptops or gadgets for school opening.”
Salinlahi and NUSP chided DepEd for being “insensitive” to the various circumstances of students and parents who suffer from the combined impact of COVID-19 and the downturn of the economy.
Salinlahi expressed indignation at the “thoughtless remarks” of Education Secretary Leonor Briones during a recent meeting with Duterte on limited face-to-face classes about the 16 children who died due to COVID-19.
“Hindi dapat itinuturing lang na mga numero lang ang mga batang namatay. (The children who died should not be considered as mere numbers),” Bonganay said. “Napaka-insensitive na tingnan lang ang mga buhay ng mga musmos na ito bilang istatistika lamang (It is very insensitive to just look at the lives of these young ones as a mere statistics),” he added.
As thousands of Filipinos lost jobs and livelihood, Manuel criticized the government and the DepEd for pushing homeschooling this school year. “Napaka-insensitive ng Duterte administration at ng DepEd sa kalagayan ng mga mamamayang Pilipino, para bang ‘business as usual’ lang (The government and the DepEd is very insensitive to the situation of the Filipino people, it’s as if everything is ‘business as usual’),” he said.
The groups questioned the readiness of education agencies to implement alternative learning modalities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “We cannot blame the parents if they don’t send their children to school this year and we cannot blame the teachers if they fear for their health and safety when classes open because the government failed to address the current problems,” Manuel said.
Salinlahi said DepEd failed to present a comprehensive, responsive, and long-term plan to facilitate the safe, accessible, and quality education for Filipino children amid the coronavirus pandemic.