National Children’s Month

As the world celebrates the 30th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Philippines observes the National Children’s Month by virtue of Republic Act No. 10661, the Child Rights Network (CRN), the largest alliance of organizations and agencies in the Philippines, together with the House of Representatives Committee on the Welfare of Children and Tingog Sinirangan Party-List, Senate of the Philippines, and the Office of Senator Grace Poe, with special participation of the Early Childhood Care and Development Center from the House of Representative, celebrates the recognition of children as important pillars of society.

The 2 week celebration features elements that aim to: (1) creatively instill in the consciousness of policy-makers the core principles of the UNCRC thus encouraging them to take all necessary actions in line with the promotion of the rights and welfare of children, and (2) to highlight the crucial role of legislators in the overall development of the situation of Filipino children.

With the theme Bata sa Puso ng Batas, CRN emphasizes the importance of putting children at the heart of legislation and the role of the UNCRC as a treaty that plays a fundamental role in improving the lives of children worldwide.

The Exhibit in the House of Representatives

The events were opened by a ribbon cutting ceremony and a gallery walk of the National Children’s Month exhibit. The exhibit features a history wall of the Philippines’ policy gains in the 30 years of the UNCRC. Some of these milestones include the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act (RA 7610), the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 (RA 9344), the Anti-Trafficking in Persons act of 2003 (RA 9208), the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 (RA 9775), and the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (RA 9262).

The exhibit also features several remaining challenges concerning children’s rights—starting from a petition board that calls for #NoMoreChildrenHavingChildren through the enactment of the Prevention of Adolescent Pregnancy Act to information booths on the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC) and #EndChildRape, a campaign to increase the age to determine statutory rape. It then continues to an installation on #ChildrenNotCriminals, showing reasons why the Minimum Age for Criminal Responsibility (MACR) should not be lowered. This is followed by a live installation of a room that shows a glimpse of a child’s harrowing experience of online sexual abuse. The exhibit also featured a gallery about why mandatory ROTC for children should be prohibited, a display on positive discipline that show household items that parents commonly use to hurt their children, and a booth on inclusive education that calls for the Inclusive Education for Learners with Disabilities Bill. In addition to this, the exhibit also displayed a live installation of Talk, Hang, and Play—a small cardboard room with letters from and for children who were affected by the War on Drugs. The exhibit also had a Yosi Kadiri Store—an intallation that calls for the strict regulation of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), a live installation called “Too Young To Marry” which features the issue of Child Early and Forced Marriages (CEFM), and a display on CRN’s special regional agenda—the development of the Bangsamoro Children’s Code. Lastly, there was also an Advocacy Photo Booth where visitors are encouraged to become advocates and take photos showing their chosen cause.

The Celebration in the House of Representatives

This exhibit was opened by Hon. Yedda Romualdez—the Representative of Tingog Sinirangan Party List and the Chairperson for the HRep Committee on the Welfare of Children, House Majority Leader Hon. Martin Romualdez—the Representative of the 1st District of Leyte, Mr. Romeo Dongeto—the Executive Director of the Philippine Legislator’s Committee on Population and Development (CRN Convenor), and Hon. Anna Marie Villaraza Suarez—the Representative of ALONA Party List and the Vice Chairperson for the HRep Committee on the Welfare of Children.

Precious, 11-year-old youth leader, delivered the keynote speech, highlighting the importance of child participation. “Mahalaga na hingin ang opinyon naming [mga bata], dahil bilang bata, kami ang masnakakaalam ng mga isyu dahil kami mismo ang nakararanas ng mga ito.” (It is important to ask for the opinion of children because, as children, we know the issue better because we, ourselves, experience them.) She also calls to action legislators, saying “Nawa ay gamitin ng mga mambabatas at mga taong nasa Kongreso ang kanilang posisyon upang iangat ang kalagayan ng mga batang Pilipino, sa pamamagitan ng paglathala ng mga batas at polisiya para sa mga bata.” (We hope that legislators and people in Congress use their position to uplift the lives of Filipino children through creating laws and policies for children.)

After the opening of the exhibit, guests were then invited to the 3:00 plenary session where privilege speeches by child rights champion-legislators were given. Hon. Yedda Romualdez, who spoke about the UNCRC and Children’s Month, said that “The reality is that the future of the world is in the hands of our children. But we must never forget an even more important fact – that the future of our children are in our hands,” encouraging her fellow legislators to treat the issues of children with utmost urgency. Numerous legislators shed light on these issues: Hon. Bernadette Herrera-Dy spoke about Child Early and Forced Marriages (CEFM), Hon. Lawrence Fortun laid bare the importance of strengthening the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) system, Hon. Ruffy Biazon called for the strict regulation of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), Hon. Irene Saulog revealed the significance of the amendment to Domestic Adoption, Hon. Carlos Zarate expressed the concerns of Children Affected by the War on Drugs (CAWOD), and Hon. Sarah Elago encouraged the strengthening of the implementation of Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and opposition to lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility.

In the following days, there was a Review & Orientation of the UNCRC for Legislative & Congressional Staff in the morning and for Legislators in the afternoon delivered by Atty. Anjanette Saguisag, the Chief of Social Policy & Advocacy of UNICEF Philippines, Mr. Mika Kanervavuori, the Senior Human Rights Adviser of the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator, and Usec. Mary Mitzi Cajayon-Uy, the Executive Director of the Council for the Welfare of Children. There were also children in attendance, who gave flowers, along with CRN’s legislative agenda for the 18th Congress, to the legislators.

In the final day of the celebration, children were invited to the House of Representatives to participate in a book reading by Hon. Malou Acosta-Alba, the Representative of the 1st District of Bukidnon, Ms. Mabel Mañalac from the Office of Hon. Yedda Romualdez, Atty. Richard Del Rosario—the Chief of Staff of Hon. Malou Acosta-Alba, and Hon. Ferdinand Gaite, the Representative of Bayan Muna. For the last part of the program, the children expressed their talents and creativity through an art contest. In the end, all the children were awarded by Hon. Yedda Romualdez, Hon. Malou Acosta-Alba, Hon. Resurrection Acop, Hon. Ruth Mariano-Hernandez, Hon. Josefina Tallado, and Hon. Juliette Uy.

The Celebration in the Senate

The celebration in the Senate also included the history wall of the Philippines’ policy gains in the 30 years of the UNCRC and a list of the remaining challenges concerning children’s rights.

This list included:

  1. Strengthening of the implementation of Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act (Oppose lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility)
  2. Increasing the age for determining statutory rape
  3. Strengthening civil registration and vital statistics system
  4. Ending early, child and forced marriages
  5. Shutting down online sexual exploitation of children
  6. Institutionalization of inclusive education
  7. Promotion of positive and non-violent forms of discipline
  8. Prohibition of mandatory ROTC for children (below 18 years old)
  9. Regulation of marketing and advertising of food and beverage for children under five years old
  10. Protection of children affected by the war on drugs
  11. Prevention of teenage pregnancy
  12. Strict regulation of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems
  13. Amendment to Domestic Adoption (by making the process purely administrative)
  14. Special Regional agenda: Development of the Bangsamoro Children’s Code 

The exhibit was opened by Senator Grace Poe, who discussed National Children’s Month and highlighted the issue of domestic adoption, saying “Ang pamilya ay nasa puso, hindi lamang sa dugo” (Family is made by the heart, not only the blood). This was then followed by a message of support by Mr. Ramon Navarra Jr., the representative of Senator Risa Hontiveros. He emphasized that, “Protecting out children is not only protecting out future. It is protecting those who will make this world a better place for generations to come.” The last message of support came from Atty. Albert Muyot, the Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children. Aside from highlighting the CRN’s legislative agenda for the 18th Congress, he concludes with a call to “continue to advocate for laws that promote survival, development, protection, and participation of children.”

Children at the Heart of the Law

National Children’s Month 2019 truly was a celebration for and with children. It highlights the policy gains the Philippines has achieved in the 30 years the UNCRC was adopted and reminds us of the remaining challenges and the crucial role of Congress in the protection, fulfillment, and promotion of children’s rights in the road ahead. It affirms the commitment of CRN to continue working with legislators, legislative and congressional staff, government agencies and other stakeholders in ensuring that Filipino children are at the center of legislation through the promotion of policy advocacies that embodies the aspirations of and for children, not only for the present, but also for future generations.