Save the Children Philippines is alarmed that there are already 763 cases of crimes against women and 521 cases of crimes against children recorded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) as of 30 April 2020, since the implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
As an organization that promotes children’s right to protection, we believe that the protection of children from any form of abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence should still be ensured despite the government’s current focus on controlling the spread of COVID-19.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) issued Joint Memorandum Circular No. 2020-001, dated 6 April 2020 which reiterates the need for all local government workers, service providers and law enforcers to comply with existing protocols on reaching out to children, including those in street situations, in need of special protection, children at risk, and children in conflict with the law during the ECQ. This means that all programs, services and mechanisms to prevent and respond to cases of abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence should continue to function even in the current situation to ensure the continued protection of children and their families.
Save the Children Philippines believes that in addition to the immediate impacts on children’s health and that of their caregivers, the social and economic disruptions caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 present a range of other risks to their well-being and protection. These may derive directly from the outbreak, from measures taken to respond to it and from wider economic and other disruptions. The vulnerabilities of specific groups of children (e.g. children with disabilities) also need to be considered.
Primary protection concerns relate to the interruption of children’s safe and appropriate care, through the absence, incapacitation or loss of primary caregivers; exposure to negative coping strategies including violence and exploitation; and the negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of children and their caregivers brought about by a rapidly evolving and uncertain situations. Children outside of family care, including children in the streets, children in institutions or in detention, are particularly vulnerable, including discrimination within the community.
We therefore call on the government to continue to fulfill its obligation to ensure the protection of all its citizens particularly the most marginalized such as the children. The government should work together with civil society organizations and other actors to ensure that protection is mainstreamed in all sectoral interventions. This includes ensuring that social welfare staff are at hospitals to identify and better protect children separated from family members who require treatment at hospitals and/or temporary health facilities; mobilizing a community response to monitor the situation of vulnerable households and developing a contingency plan for the care of children orphaned or left without appropriate care by severe cases of COVID-19 that require hospitalization. The government and other actors should also support children’s right to information, help counteract psychosocial distress and promote life-saving information through developing accurate, accessible, child-friendly information materials and communication approaches. This can include the provision of child-friendly information with parents, caregivers, teachers and others who work directly with children including tips and guidance for speaking to children about COVID-19.