Bata Muna: giving children a voice

In the Philippines, the voting age is 18 which means children are not able to vote and have a say in choosing their country's political leaders. Yet, children often feel the impact from policy change or the lack of it, be it delays on policies that are supposed to protect them or poor governance.

There are limited areas where children can express their opinions, give feedback and make suggestions on policies, or comment on the performance of elected officials. And sadly, often children's opinions are not taken seriously.

While many political candidates claim they stand for children, once they are elected into office, their performances don't always support their claims. This, and Save the Children's commitment to children's rights, led to our child rights-based electoral campaign called Bata Muna (Children First).

Through our Child Rights Governance program, Save the Children coordinated with a group of 169 civil society organizations (CSOs) from different areas of the Philippines to push for a child rights agenda that was defined by children themselves – done through a series of child consultations in 2012. Bata Muna was perhaps the first nationally coordinated effort among child-focused organizations where children played significant roles in influencing voters and political agendas.

This loose network consisted of child-led groups, people's organizations, child-centered non-government organizations and international organizations.

The CSOs involved in the Bata Muna campaign publicized the issues through a variety of activities. They used both social media and traditional media like television and radio interviews, press releases, media briefings as well as creative actions such as parades where children wore face paint and costumes.

Engaging the media resulted in great media coverage on children's issues and recommendations – 135 media hits were registered and the campaign Facebook page had 1,599 likes. From our perspective, these figures also indicated a growing discussion about children's rights and situation in relation to the election, which was nonexistent in previous election campaigns.

The campaign impact was also reflected in parents' comments such as "Bata Muna means making children the first priority, having a concern for children. Fighting for them so that all children attain what they need." An anonymous blogger remarked, "A group of child-rights NGOs came up with Bata Muna which was a campaign to engage with candidates to find out their stand on child-sensitive issues. That's a good idea, I think. In the end they did not seek to endorse any particular candidate, but they did present the candidates' responses on critical issues. I took note of that and it helped frame who I would vote for."

Save the Children, in partnership with the Bata Mina network, reached more than 7,000 boys and girls and 72,000 adults. The campaign provided an opportunity for children to strengthen their voices and be heard. Although they are not voters, children and young people often act as volunteers in politicians' campaigns and they may not always have considered whether the politician was strong on children's rights while other children just observed from the sidelines.  However, in places where the Bata Muna campaign was held, children could participate more significantly. Having considered their issues in-depth, children voiced recommendations on what they thought should be done to improve their situation. They formed a collective voice and spoke about their issues and recommendations face to face with political candidates and the public.

Bata Muna made children's citizenship and civil rights a reality for boys and girls. As 16-year-old Judine said, "Before, election for me is about listening to the empty promises of the candidates, but now election for me is the time to speak and be listened to by the candidates."