Child-rights organization Save the Children Philippines said it welcomes the new guidelines set by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on children who violate curfew regulations.
The DILG orders barangay officials and law enforcement officers to treat these children humanely and with dignity, when implementing the rules governing community quarantine.
This comes after the numerous call outs of Save the Children Philippines for the government to address the issue of rising cases of violence against children during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).
The new guidelines will apply to children in street situations, those in conflict with the law, and children at risk or those abandoned and vulnerable to physical, sexual, and economic exploitation.
The new rules issued on June 23 were based on the provisions of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act or Republic Act 9344, as amended by RA 10630.
Atty. Alberto Muyot, chief executive officer of Save the Children Philippines, said the COVID-19 pandemic is already taking a toll on children’s lives as they missed out on classes, and their mobility was curtailed thus, preventing them to go out of homes and interact with others, causing them psychosocial distress.
He said the pandemic also continues to worsen hunger and malnutrition among children belonging to low income families and whose parents or guardians have lost income or livelihood due to the quarantine. This has forced minors to leave home to help look for food and income for their families.
“Children who allegedly violated curfew rules, or those in street situations must not be placed behind bars or under harsh and inhumane conditions without consideration of their rights,” said Muyot.
“Instead, barangay leaders and law enforcement officers should protect these children by turning them over to their parents, guardians, or social welfare office,” he added.
The new DILG rules also direct authorities to endorse the child to the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC) or to the Barangay Violence against Women and Children (VAWC) desk officer.
Jerly Villanada, Child Protection Manager of Save the Children Philippines, said the BCPC should implement projects to increase children’s understanding of the risks of COVID-19 and their important role in mitigating its spread.
“The rights of boys and girls who allegedly committed violations should, at all times, be paramount in the handling and managing of their cases,” said Villanada.
The new DILG guidelines mandate barangay leaders and law enforcement officers to observe rules that don’t harm and threaten children. These include the use of simple, child-friendly language or dialect when being brought to the barangay office. Further, they must introduce themselves properly to the child without use of vulgar or profane words, or resort to sexual harassment or child abuse.
She said barangay leaders must promote values formation, psychosocial and mental health support, and volunteerism among children and their parents or guardians.
Law enforcement officers should also avoid the display and use of firearms, weapons, or handcuffs on minors, unless absolutely necessary and only after all other methods have been exhausted.
The additional guidelines will be integrated in the Joint Memorandum Circular of DILG and Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) dated April 6, 2020 on the protocol on reaching out to children in street situations, in need of special protection, children at risk, and children in conflict with the law.
Save the Children Philippines strongly denounces harsh and inhumane treatment against children such as those reportedly placed in coffins, dog cages, and stripped naked after being apprehended by law enforcers during the ECQ.
“We commit to monitor the enforcement of these new guidelines to ensure that the basic right of children to be protected is fulfilled and respected,” said Muyot.