Save the Children Philippines calls for the fulfillment of children’s rights to safe, adequate, and resilient shelter as they face compounding health and protection risks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
October 5 is World Habitat Day and the child rights organization maintained that the access to adequate housing is much more important today for millions of children living in informal settlements.
Atty. Alberto Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines, said that having a safe and secure home is critical to the realization of every child’s right to physical, mental, spiritual, moral, and social development.
“While it is the responsibility of parents and guardians to provide a safe and secure living condition for their children, the mandate of the national and local government units (LGUs) is to ensure that every child has access to adequate housing,” Muyot said.
In 2011, the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) reported that there are some 1.5 million informal settler families, about 767,500 of them living in high-risk areas via makeshift houses along railroads, garbage dumps, riverbanks, and above the waterways like esteros (river inlets).
On March 12, 2020, three days before Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine, 120 families were evicted from their homes in Pasay City which put them and their children at risk of getting infected by the Coronavirus.
During the said quarantine period, fire also broke out in Pasay City leaving 184 families, many of them with children, homeless. Save the Children Philippines distributed relief food packages, groceries, fresh produce, and hygiene kits to children and their families who were housed at the Pasay City North High School, and provided information on protection against COVID-19.
Muyot said with the onset of the typhoon season and La Niña, children who live in informal settlements have higher risks of getting infected by COVID-19 and other life-threatening illnesses including diarrhea, typhoid fever, leptospirosis and all water-related vector borne diseases due to lack of access to safe water and sanitation.
“Children belonging to informal settler families (ISFs) face injury, loss of life and belongings during extreme weather events such as typhoons, storm surges, and massive flooding. Moreover, they are also exposed to multiple risks from psychosocial distress and physical abuse and violence due to presence of street gangs and children in conflict with the law,” said Atty. Muyot.
Save the Children Philippines implements the Building Urban Children’s Resilience against the Shocks and Threats of Resettlement (BURST) to ensure children living in informal settlements are protected from harm, have access to quality and inclusive education, and health and social services. The project also strengthens coordination of LGUs for the ISFs and their relocation sites.
The child rights organization, together with other civil society organizations, called for the enactment of Senate Bill 1081, or the Just and Humane Resettlement Act (JAHRA), and the proposed Least Displacement of Informal Settler Families Act (LISA) to prevent and address the adverse impacts of homelessness, displacement, and relocation of children in ISFs. The bills will also support programs for underprivileged and homeless citizens to have access to safe, secure, habitable, sustainable, resilient and affordable housing.
The JAHRA bill seeks to establish housing and resettlement systems that are sensitive to children’s needs and concerns. It prohibits the eviction and demolition of informal settlements before the evicting authority has complied with mandatory requirements before, during, and after demolition.