COMMITTEE ON RIGHTS OF CHILD EXAMINES REPORT OF THE PHILIPPINES



Committee on the Rights of the Child

15 September 2009


The Committee on the Rights of the Child today reviewed the combined third and fourth periodic reports of the Philippines on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Esperanza Cabral, Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines, introducing the report, highlighted that during the reporting period six new laws had been enacted. In 2003, two child protection laws, the Anti-trafficking in Persons Act and the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Act, had been adopted. In 2004, three child protection laws had been enacted, namely the Act Allowing Illegitimate Children to Use the Surname of their Father; the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act and the Newborn Screening Act. In addition, a Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 prohibited torture and other cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Ms. Cabral said that one noteworthy development on the issue of child soldiers and children involved in armed conflict was the forging and adoption of an agreement between the United Nations Children’s Fund/United Nations Country Team and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the demobilization of child soldiers. That was the fulfillment of an earlier commitment from the Front leadership made to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, on her visit to the country in December 2008.

Committee Expert Sanphasit Koompraphant, who served as co-Rapporteur for the report of the Philippines, in some preliminary concluding observations, noted that one of the problems in the Philippines was the lack of financial resources and poverty. The Committee welcomed the training of law enforcement officials and judges with regard to children’s rights. While the many initiatives taken by the Philippines to protect the children showed the will of the country to improve the situation, the Committee expected it to take further action with regard to the definition of the child, and other measures to improve protection of children in armed conflicts, as well as to protect children against trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Over the course of the two meetings Committee Experts raised a series of questions pertaining to, among other things, education and the number of children not enrolled in schools; the protection of children involved in armed conflict; the level of knowledge of the Convention among the population; the definition of the child in the Philippine’s legislation; the religious education of children and how the State protected them from being taught extremist ideas by extremist groups; early child marriage in Muslim communities; and the role of the Child Rights Centre.

The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the combined third and fourth periodic reports of the Philippines towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 2 October 2009.

The delegation of the Philippines also included representatives from the Philippine Mission to the United Nations, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labour and Employment, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the Presidential Human Rights Committee of the Philippines, the Department of Health, the Philippine National Police, the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, the Council for the Welfare of Children and the Department of Education.

As one of the 193 States parties to the Convention, the Philippines is obliged to present periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to comply with the provisions of the Treaty. The delegation was on hand throughout the day to present the report and to answer questions raised by Committee Experts.

When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 September, it will consider the second periodic report of Mozambique (CRC/C/MOZ/2).

Report of the Philippines

The combined third and fourth periodic reports of the Philippines (CRC/C/PHL/3-4) says the 2006 National Statistical Coordination Board data on poverty incidence in the Philippines show that 28.5 per cent of the population was considered poor compared to 30 per cent in 2003 and 33 per cent in 2000. This signifies that about 25.2 million Filipinos today subsist below the poverty line. In 2003, around 3.4 million children ages zero to five were underweight; 1.1 million children were not immunized for serious diseases; 9.3 million people were eating below the required food intake for proper nutrition; 1.4 million children of elementary school age were not enrolled in school; and there were 2,800 reported maternal deaths. Today, 36 out of 100 new elementary school children do not finish elementary schooling and 65 do not complete high school. Almost 50 per cent of Filipino couples are not practicing family planning or responsible parenthood.

While the Philippines has made substantial progress in harmonizing domestic legislation with the principles, provisions and standards of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, gaps in legislation in the following areas still have to be addressed: the minimum age of sexual consent; child pornography; corporal punishment and other forms of violence in the home, school and the community; and discrimination against children born out of wedlock. It should be noted that these gaps have already been prioritized by the Council for the Welfare of Children in its Legislative Agenda for the fourteenth Congress (2007-2010) in partnership with the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development. Further, the Government formulated in 2000 the Philippine National Strategic Framework for Plan Development for Children for the period 2000-2025. More popularly known as “Child 21”, its goal is to build a “child-sensitive and child-friendly society” as the country’s promise to Filipino children in the twenty-first century. It is meant to serve as a road map – a guide to make plans and programmes for children more focused – following the provisions, principles and standards of the Convention. The vision of Child 21 has been concretized through the formulation of the National Plan of Action for Children for the period 2005-2010, aimed at reducing disparities in development indicators for children. Subsequently, there will be a National Plan of Action 2011-2015 (Catching up with the Millennium Development Goals); a National Plan of Action 2016-2020 (Sustaining the gains); and a National Plan of Action 2021-2025 (Achieving the Child 21 vision).

Presentation of Report

ESPERANZA CABRAL, Secretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines, highlighting some of the Philippine’s accomplishments in the reporting period, noted that six new laws had been enacted. In 2003, two child protection laws, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Act, had been adopted. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act had established institutional mechanisms for the protection and support of trafficked persons and provided penalties for violations. In 2004, three child protection laws had been enacted, namely, the Act Allowing Illegitimate Children to Use the Surname of their Father; the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act; and the Newborn Screening Act. The Anti-Violence Against women Act provided for imprisonment of men if they were found to have committed acts of violence against their partners. The Newborn Screening Act ensured, among others, that parents recognized their responsibility in promoting their child’s right to health and full development by protecting them from preventable causes of disability and death through newborn screening. In addition, a Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 prohibited torture and other cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Timely birth registration was one challenge that the National Statistics Office and Plan Philippines, a non-governmental organization, had addressed in their Unregistered Children Project between 2000 and 2004 and the Birth Registration Project between 2004 and 2007, said Ms. Cabral. These projects had established the Village Civil Registration System as a grassroots mechanism to facilitate and sustain 100 per cent birth registration in 127 municipalities in the 17 regions in the country.

Ms. Cabral said that the Philippines was also the first country in East Asia to adopt a Strategic Framework and a Plan of Action to End Violence Against Children, and a national network had been organized to see to the operationalization of that plan of action.

Between 2007 and 2009 the Philippines had made great strides in terms of policies, as well as programmatic action and budgetary allocations for children, Ms. Cabral emphasized. They had enacted three laws benefiting children during that period: the Act that Requires the Certification of the Department of Social Welfare and Development to Declare a Child Legally Available for Adoption as a Prerequisite for Adoption Proceedings; a provision called “Magna Carta for Persons with Disability”; and a provision on “Granting Additional Privileges and Incentives and Prohibitions on Verbal, Non-Verbal Ridicule and Vilification Against Persons with Disability”.

Ms. Cabral also noted that the Presidential Human Rights Committee had been strengthened in December 2006. Its new structure had identified the lead agencies to monitor compliance with the eight core international human rights Conventions and the Department of Social Welfare and Development had been designated the lead agency for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Turning to the country’s commitment to meet the Millennium Development Goals, Ms. Cabral enumerated a number of instruments designed to eradicate poverty, achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and promoter gender equality. For example, the Conditional Cash Transfer Programme had a $208 million budget to benefit 700,000 poor households, and the Accelerated Hunger Mitigation Programme had helped reduce the proportion of underweight children from 32 per cent in 1998 to 26 per cent in 2008. In terms of official development assistance, the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund United Nations Steering Committee had just approved $3.5 million for children, food security and malnutrition this past month.

Ms. Cabral observed that the National Demographic and Health Survey had reported a decrease in the infant mortality rate from 35 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 25 per 1,000 live births in 2008. The under-five mortality rate had also decreased, from 48 per 1,000 to 34 per 1,000 in the same period.

At the United Nations, the Philippines spearheaded and was co-sponsor of General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions and initiatives to combat trafficking in persons, especially women and children; on the human rights of migrants and their families, including migrant children; on the human rights of disabled persons; on extreme poverty and human rights; on the human rights implications of climate change; and on human rights education and training for primary and secondary education, as well as for higher education and professional training, Ms. Cabral added.

With regard to children who had been convicted of a criminal offence and the sanctions such child offenders had been sentenced to, Ms. Cabral said that there were a total of 440 convicted children as of 14 September 2009: 61 had been diverted to the Department of Social Welfare and Development; 16 were detained with the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology; 347 were with the Bureau of Corrections; 2 were with the Manila Youth Reception Centre; and 14 were with non-governmental organizations.

Ms. Cabral said that one noteworthy development on the issue of child soldiers and children involved in armed conflict was the forging and adoption of an agreement between the United Nations Children’s Fund/ United Nations Country Team and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the demobilization of child soldiers. That was the fulfilment of an earlier commitment from the Front leadership made to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, on her visit to the country in December 2008.

Questions by Experts

LUIGI CITARELLA, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of the Philippines, observed that the actions that the Government of the Philippines had undertaken were impressive. He wondered what the procedure for drafting the report had been, as it showed some self-criticism and sometimes gave guidance to the Government as to what should be done in certain areas.

Natural disasters and the problem of poverty were major burdens that prevented the improvement of the conditions of children and the population at large in the Philippines, Mr. Citarella noted. There was also a problem with the budget of the State as a whole, as a part of it came from external aid and remittances of citizens working abroad. In that connection, had the State made an estimation of the impact of the economic and financial crisis on those financial resources?

Other issues of concern included education, with many children not enrolled in schools, and the need to protect children in the context of the ongoing problems with terrorism, and Mr. Citarella asked what steps the Government was taking in that regard.

As there were many languages spoken in the Philippines, Mr. Citarella further wondered whether the Convention was well known throughout the country.

On the definition of the child, Mr. Citarella asked if the definition in Philippine legislation coincided with Article 1 of the Convention?

The Council for the Welfare of Children was a very important institution in the Philippines, Mr. Citarella observed. However, there had been some difficulties with it in the past, and the Council had asked the Government to ensure enough financial and human resources for it to be able to do its work. Mr. Citarella asked for an update on that situation.

Other Experts then raised a series of questions pertaining to, among other things whether the Convention was directly applicable under domestic law and whether there had been any cases where it had been invoked before the courts.

One Expert noted that the use by the delegation of the term of “illegitimate child” for children born out of marriage was discriminatory. These children were as legitimate as those that were born from married parents.

With regard to Muslim children, an Expert wondered about religious education in schools and how the Government protected children from being taught extremist ideas and from extremist groups, as well as from early marriage in Muslim communities?

Other questions included an explanation of the difference between the National Human Rights Commission and the Presidential Human Rights Committee and what were the links between them; how the impact of international cooperation was being assessed; whether the Convention was included in the school curricula; and what the functions of the Child Rights Centre were, as well as whether children were aware of its existence.

On extrajudicial killings, one Expert said that it was the Committee’s opinion that the State party was not addressing that issue seriously enough. Also, the death penalty for minors had not been explicitly abolished.

Response by the Delegation

Responding to these questions and others, the delegation said that the Convention and the Optional Protocols were deemed to be part of the law of the land, according to the Philippine Constitution, and that they had the force and effect of law.

The delegation said that the Philippines had adopted a definition of the child, according to the Convention. A child was a person below 18 years of age. This definition applied to the whole territory. That was consistent with the Convention. A Muslim code co-existed in parallel to national legislation.

A child below the age of 15 was not criminally responsible. Between 15 and 18 years, a differentiation was made between children that had acted with or without discernment.

On the dissemination of the Convention, the delegation said that they had measured knowledge of the Convention among the population, and had determined that more needed to be done to make the population more conscious of child rights. The report itself had been published in a brochure form.

Regarding children in armed conflict and the existence of children in the various armed groups existing and fighting in the country, the delegation indicated that there was an entity that had been created which strived to coordinate all activities linked to the peace processes. It was also the focal point for the problem of children in armed conflict. The State had to defend the right of children to be protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation. That included armed conflicts and natural disasters.

With regard to the difference between the National Human Rights Commission and the Presidential Human Rights Committee, the delegation said that the Commission was a constitutional and independent body and had a monitoring role. It had a presence in all regions. The Presidential Committee however, was part of the Executive and its role was to ensure that the basic human rights of the citizens were being attended to accordingly; it was an implementing agency and was responsible for drafting the various human rights programmes. The Child Rights Centre was an integral part of the Human Rights Commission. The Centre played the role of a child Ombudsman in the Philippines and could receive complaints. Both institutions were complementary to each other, the delegation noted.

As concerned corporal punishment, there was a bill pending before Congress which sought to redefine the current legislation on corporal punishment and other forms of violence to also include verbal, physical or psychological violence.

With respect to religious education, the delegation said that in 2004 the Department of Education had issued a standard Madrasa education curriculum. The curriculum was similar to the normal school curricula, plus Arabic courses and basic Islamic values teachings.

Further Questions by Experts

During a second round of questions, LUIGI CITARELLA, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of the Philippines asked for more information on the mandate of the Council on Juvenile Justice and Welfare and wondered if there might be a conflict between its mandate and that of the Council for the Welfare of Children. Moreover, it seemed that there were only a small number of provinces in which juvenile courts had been set up and that in some cases juveniles were not detained separately from adults, he observed.

SANPHASIT KOOMPRAPHANT, the Committee Expert serving as co-Rapporteur for the report of the Philippines asked questions on the Child Protection Act and noted that there seemed to be a lack of resources to put in place adequate child protection services in the Philippines. What services were there for the protection of child witnesses, for example? Also, what were the needs of the Philippines in terms of support from the international community in that area?

Other Experts asked further questions on topics including, among others, free birth registration for the Muslim and indigenous populations; the training of state prosecutors; long delays in the hearing of child cases; the issue of reproductive health; the high number of migrant families leaving their children behind in the Philippines; whether bullying in the schools was a recognized problem, and what was being done to combat it; and measures to improve early identification of children with disabilities, in particular whether children with mental disabilities received a minimum of health services and education.

One Expert noted that there was no indication of refugee children residing in the Philippines, and asked what domestic law applied to refugee or asylum seeker children residing in the Philippines?

Another Expert noted the increase in dropout rates in schools and that at the same time the Government’s budget for education had been decreased from 16 to 12 per cent. What measures were specifically in place to reduce the dropout rates?

Experts also asked for information on what the Government was doing to forward the adoption of the draft law on reproductive health currently before Congress, as well as what was being done to address child labour, given reports that minors were employed in the mining sector, despite prohibitions on child labour in domestic law.

An Expert noted that there was a proposal in the Senate to lower the age of criminal liability from 15 to 9 years old, and asked the delegation to explain.

The highest rate of school dropout occurred in grades one and two, an Expert noted, which showed the low preparedness of children for school. In that context, it was asked what early childhood day care centres were like and whether they actually prepared children for the school environment.

Other concerns were reports of arrest and detention of street children in Manila for minor offences, such as violation of curfew; whether indigenous children who committed offences were treated under traditional or national justice norms; and a report by Human Rights Watch that said that young people and street children had “mistakenly” been killed by death squads in Mindanao and Manila, and have even mentioned a “pattern of child killings”.

Response by Delegation

Responding to those and other questions, the delegation said that children aged between three and five years had to attend daycare centres and those aged 6 to 14 had to attend elementary or high school, at least 80 per cent of the time. The delegation acknowledged that daycare centres could be improved.

On the death penalty in the Philippines, the delegation said that it was not applied anymore as the President had signed an act prohibiting the death penalty.

Regarding children in conflict with the law, the best interest of the child was always protected the delegation stressed. Children were not subjected to torture or any ill-treatment. Life imprisonment and capital punishment could not be imposed on them. A minor or a child was always presumed to be a child, unless proven otherwise. Trials should be as short as possible. Through a recent decision of the Supreme Court, all imprisoned persons who had committed offences when they were minors had been removed from jail. The Department of Social Welfare continued to provide care to children in conflict with the law.

On the push to lower criminal responsibility from 15 to 9 years, the delegation acknowledged that there was such a proposal before the Senate. However, it was only a proposal and just like any other proposal it would have to go through a debate in both chambers.

The use of minors in armed conflict was contrary to national legislation. The delegation confirmed that recruited children were considered as victims, not as violators of the law.

Customary law was applied to children of indigenous people in conflict with the law when both parties involved were indigenous. If one of the parties was non-indigenous, the national legislation was applied, said the delegation.

Turning to the alleged killings of children, the delegation said that the Philippine National Police was working closely with the Department of Justice and was also working and cooperating with the Human Rights Commission in this area. The Commission had recently created an inter-agency task force to investigate alleged summary killings. The investigation was ongoing, but the Commission had stated that there was no established pattern of child killings and that the children in these cases had been “collateral victims”.

With respect to education, the delegation said that budgetary constraints affected all Governmental agencies. It was true that there had been a reduction in the budget for education, but the Government was doing outmost to provide education with the highest possible budget. A study had been conducted on the dropout rate, which had identified the top five causes behind the drop outs. Those were: poverty, distance from school, parents’ attitude towards school, peer influence and fear of teachers. It was true that the dropout rate was the highest in grades one and two. To address that problem, the Government was conducting programmes to address the issue of poverty. A hunger mitigation programme was also being conducted; there were feeding programmes conducted in the daycare centres and in elementary schools from grades one to three.

On health issues, the delegation said that mothers were encouraged to continue breastfeeding, even while they were working. Breastfeeding stations had been made available at the workplace. The Government allowed for nine to ten weeks’ maternity leave, and unmarried women were entitled to take maternity leave as well.

The delegation said that the Philippines was committed to the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the maternal mortality rate, and that it had slowly declined in the last decade. The Newborns Screening Act of 2004 included the determination of various health issues that were covered by the health insurance of the mother. Those who were not insured would have to pay for health services. The Government had campaigned for universal health coverage so that the poorest were not excluded from health services. The registration of disabled persons was still ongoing and they could not yet determine how big the disabled population was in the country.

Regarding abortion, the delegation said that it was forbidden by the Philippine Constitution and was considered as a crime in the country. That was the reason why the Government focused so much on contraception and family planning methods. Those services were provided at the local level.

On the perceived reduction of overseas remittances, the delegation said that it had actually increased in the past years. A large portion of the remittances went into the health and education sectors. The children left behind by overseas workers were being supported in their schools. The family members that stayed with the children could also provide the children with the necessary support.

It was not Government policy to encourage overseas workers to leave the country, nor to force them to come back. It was Filipino workers’ own choice to leave the country and the Government helped to prepare them to the challenges they would face. As the country could not create more employment opportunities it had to oversee the Filipinos that wanted to leave. The Government also focused its efforts on how it could attract overseas workers back to the country.

With respect to the protection of children against abuse and sexual exploitation, the delegation indicated that when children were abused, perpetrators were subjected to punishment, including imprisonment from 6 to up to 20 years. In cases of sexual exploitation or trafficking for sexual exploitation, punishment could go even higher.

Regarding child victims and their interrogation, the delegation said that there were manuals and protocols for each official that would enter in contact with the child victims, ranging from the prosecutor to the social worker, on how to deal with the children. Parents were also involved in the rehabilitation of children victims of trafficking. In most of the laws regarding children there were measures that provided for confidentiality and everything about the child was kept confidential.

Sick parents or parents that were not able to take care of their children for a certain period of time could give their child to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, which would take care of it during that period. The delegation noted however that there were some parents that gave false names and were thus abandoning their children. In such cases the Department kept the children and took care of them.


Preliminary Concluding Observations

SANPHASIT KOOMPRAPHANT, the Committee Expert serving as co-Rapporteur for the report of the Philippines, in preliminary concluding observations, said that the discussion today had given a clear picture of the situation in the Philippines and that one of the problems was the lack of financial resources and poverty. The Committee welcomed the training of law enforcement officials and judges with regard to children’s rights. The many initiatives taken by the State party to protect the children showed the will of the country to improve the situation.

The Committee further expected the Philippines to take actions with regard to the definition of the child, and other measures to improve protection of children in armed conflicts, as well as to protect children against trafficking and sexual exploitation, said Mr. Koompraphant.

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