MANILA, 14 April 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic is having a devastating impact across the world. In the Philippines, the Government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus are vital to the health of the country’s population, but they are also exposing children to increased risk of violence – including maltreatment, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation.
Movement restrictions, the closure of schools, loss of income, isolation, overcrowding and high levels of stress and anxiety are increasing the likelihood that children experience and observe physical, psychological and sexual abuse at home – particularly those children already living in violent or dysfunctional family situations.
While online communities have become central to maintain many children’s learning, support and play, it is also increasing their exposure to cyberbullying, risky online behaviour and sexual exploitation.
Children in detention are also particularly vulnerable during these difficult times. Many are held in confined and over-crowded spaces, conditions that are highly conducive to the spread of diseases like COVID-19. UNICEF urges the Philippine Government to report on the number of children deprived of their liberty or held because of violations of the Enhanced Community Quarantine measures. UNICEF is further recommending to the Philippine Government to align with global guidance to release children in conflict with the law, and immediately adopt and implement guidelines to protect children against COVID- 19 for those whose continuing detention will be required by law.
It can be harder for children to understand the importance of the quarantine and curfew procedures. In the case of violation of curfews, verbal sanctions, such as reprimand and warnings, in addition to explaining the importance of these procedures, to the child and his or her parents/guardians should be sufficient.
The recent release of the Joint Memorandum Circular of the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) requesting all Local Government Units to promote the rights and best interest of children during the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine is an excellent measure to protect the most vulnerable during these challenging times.
“In times of emergency, children are already confused and distressed from the fear and anxiety brought by the uncertainty of the spread of disease. We at UNICEF would want to ensure that there is a protective and caring environment for children at all times. We encourage all local government units to implement the recently launched Joint Memorandum Circular that shall protect the best interest of children, by ensuring that they are physically, emotionally, and psychologically protected all the time,” said Patrizia Benvenuti, UNICEF Philippines Chief of Child Protection Section.
UNICEF supports the Philippine Government in fighting COVID-19 by complementing the government’s response through technical assistance, provision of essential supplies, and support for logistics and transportation, effective communication of safe practices to families, as well as ensuring that the rights of children and their families are protected.
For example, initiatives such as the SaferKidsPH campaign addresses online sexual exploitation and abuse of children by raising national awareness of the problem and supporting stronger implementation of laws and policies that protect children. Reports of online child sexual exploitation have increased since the COVID-19 quarantine.
Note to editors:
The Joint Memorandum Circular of the Council for the Welfare of the Children and the Department of the Interior and Local Government can be read in full here. UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore’s statement on children in detention can be read here.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.