The Department of Education (DepEd) earned praise from civil society groups for establishing a Child Protection Unit as the country faces the challenges brought by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Social Watch Philippines (SWP), a hundred-strong network of civil society groups advocating for transparent, efficient, accountable and pro-poor use of public funds, commended DepEd’s move to establish the said unit which aims to provide protection to children.
“The DepEd’s move is absolutely necessary especially at this time of pandemic where violence against children is getting worse and also gives more spaces for violence that may be committed online,” said Social Watch Coordinator Janet Carandang in a statement on July 18.
Carandang noted that even before the pandemic, the Philippines’ statistics were already showing the dismal situation of violence against children – which “got worse during lockdowns.” “The DepEd’s action shows the world that the Philippines is sincerely committed to ending violence against children through multisectoral actions in the midst of a pandemic,” Carandang said.
Citing the 2015 National Baseline Survey on Violence Against Children (VAC) in the Philippines, SWP noted that about 88 percent of Filipino children have experienced violence at home, in school, in the community and online.
SWP said that it is also alarming to note the rising cases of violence against children during the lockdown – with already 2,077 reported cases of violence against children in the first three months of the lockdown because of the COVID-19.
More protection for children
SWP Head of Child Protection Maria Luz Anigan noted that the challenge for DepEd is to ensure that the Child Protection Unit is also able to “monitor, issue policies, and initiate” inter-agency actions to address the incidence of bullying in schools in the context of the new normal – including cyberbullying and violence experienced by children online or in social media.
Citing the results of the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), SWP noted that in the Philippines, about 65% of students reported that they are experiencing bullying in schools.
“The DepEd should not stop monitoring incidences of bullying among students even with online or distance education in the times of COVID-19,” Anigan explained.
The SWP also emphasized that the DepEd Child Protection Unit should also have interventions to address violence committed against children when they are at home.
“We all know that the children exposed to violence at home are at risk of delayed cognitive development, nutrition and mental health problems, and interpersonal and self-directed violence – this will result to higher chances of not completing education,” Anigan said.
Meanwhile, SWP underscored the need for a whole-of-government approach in reinforcing the DepEd’s new Child Protection Unit.
Carandang said that there is a need to ensure that this is “fully funded so that it is functional and able to target the root cause of violence at the level of the student.” As SWP gives DepEd a “two thumbs up” for the establishment of the Child Protection Unit during the pandemic, it also stressed that the agency needs all the help it can get.
“We know that this Unit could not do it alone,” Anigan said. “We ask that the national government consider as extremely urgent the need for multisectoral policies and actions to address the urgent challenge of ensuring that the New Normal is not resulting in more violence committed against the students,” she added.