Sen.Pia seeks protection for children evacuees

News Release
07 January 2015

Senate opens 2015 with hearing on bills protecting children’s rights and welfare during disasters

Jumpstarting the Philippine Senate’s work calendar for the New Year, Senator Pia S. Cayetano will lead the chamber’s very first public hearing in 2015 which will take up measures aiming to protect children’s rights and welfare in times of disasters.

Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said the hearing to be held on Thursday, January 8, will gather inputs from various stakeholders involved in disaster risk reduction and management on the proposed ‘Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act.’

The measure seeks to institutionalize a Comprehensive Emergency Program for Children, which the government shall formulate and implement immediately whenever a national or local state of calamity is declared.

She added that the hearing is very timely in light of reports that prostitution has become rampant in evacuation centers in Zamboanga City, victimizing the refugees, particularly women and children.

“Children are considered among the most vulnerable during calamities and emergency situations, and thus require special attention from disaster responders, from the evacuation stage up to relief and recovery efforts,” Cayetano said.

“During a disaster, children become highly susceptible to physical and emotional stress, diseases and trauma as they try to comprehend and adjust to rapid changes happening around them. In some cases, they fall victims to abuse in various forms, including child labor, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.”

She explained: “Most of the time, our efforts are just focused on the immediate task of moving the evacuees to safety following a calamity or emergency. But based on experience, it is during their prolonged stay in these temporary shelters that the evacuees are exposed to even more serious risks, and this is what we have to address.”

On the agenda are several versions of the measure, including Senate Bill Numbers 2446 authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, 2448 (Sen. Teofiso Guingona III), 2466 (Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV), 2487 (Sen. Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos), 2502 (Sen. Loren Legarda), and Senate Resolution No.1025, also by Santiago.

“We aim to translate into legislation the lessons we learned, particularly after super typhoon ‘Yolanda,’ which brought widespread destruction more than a year ago. It’s not just the communities and infrastructure that we should rebuild, but we also need to make our policies more responsive,” she noted.

“Our experiences from ‘Yolanda,’ and recently, from typhoons ‘Ruby’ and ‘Seniang’ showed that much still needs to be done to improve our readiness and capacity to provide specific interventions to protect millions of children-victims of disasters.”

Among the common highlights of the measures that will be taken up are as follows:

● Comprehensive emergency program for children – This program shall ensure, among others, the establishment of child-friendly spaces in shelters; the timely delivery of health and medical services particularly for mothers and their children; and the promotion of children’s rights in all levels.

● Evacuation centers – To ensure the prompt resumption of educational services for children, the measure prohibits the use of schools as evacuation centers, but only in cases where there is no other available place or structure for such purpose. When a school is turned into an evacuation center, the use shall be limited to areas that are not used as classrooms such as gymnasiums, auditoriums and other open spaces. The use of the school premises shall not exceed thirty days after the declaration of a state of national or local calamity, unless the extension is absolutely necessary.

● Unaccompanied or Separated Children – In the case of children who lost family members or were separated from their families and relatives, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) shall document and provide adequate care, initiate tracing of immediate relatives and proceed with reunification services. All appropriate steps shall be taken to ensure the early reunion of unaccompanied or separated children with their families or immediate relatives.

● Data gathering and reporting – The collection and reporting of data at all levels shall be disaggregated by age and gender in the aftermath of a national or local state of calamity. Such collected data shall be utilized to understand and respond better to the needs of children affected by disasters and calamities.

● Heightened surveillance against child trafficking, child labor, child prostitution, and violence on children – The Philippine National Police and the DSWD shall immediately heighten comprehensive surveillance and monitoring to prevent child trafficking, labor, and prostitution including domestic and sexual violence in the areas declared under the state of calamity.

● System of restoring legal documents – In case of destroyed or missing legal documents of children in areas declared under the state of calamity, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shall develop a system to restore and reconstitute destroyed or missing legal documents within two weeks.

Aside from DSWD and PNP, other government agencies invited to the hearing include the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Office of Civil Defense, Council for Welfare of Children, Department of Education, Department of Interior and Local Government and Department of Health, among others. Representatives from civil society and the private sector, including Save the Children, Bantay Bata and Smart Communications were also invited. #

Sen. Pia: “It is during their prolonged stay in temporary shelters that the evacuees are exposed to even more serious risks.”

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