MANILA - About a third of Filipino children continue to experience poverty and are deprived of fundamental rights including proper nutrition and protection from abuses, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said Thursday.
"Three in every 10 Filipinos are stunted or are short for their age due to severe malnutrition, and 8 out of 10 children have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual violence including sexual exploitation," UNICEF said in a statement released on World Children's Day.
The group said 31.4 percent of Filipino children nationwide are affected by poverty, while incidence of child poverty in Mindanao is higher at 48.2 percent.
"Services for adolescents' physical, mental, and reproductive health are extremely limited while access to basic social services are critically scarce for children living in poverty," UNICEF said.
"Children remain vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters and displacement that disrupt their life, peaceful growth and learning," the statement read.
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Sarah Elago said this is one of the reasons why the age of criminal liability should not be lowered in the Philippines.
"We should focus our efforts in going after syndicates that use children to evade criminal responsibility. 'Yun dapat ang ating mas dapat na tinutugunan at hindi mag-focus dun sa mga bata [na] sinasabing gumagawa ng mga krimen," Elago told ABS-CBN News.
President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies in Congress have been pushing to lower the age of criminal liability to 9 from the current 15 to put an end to syndicates who use minors in criminal activity.
Opposed to the move, UNICEF earlier cited neurobiology studies showing that children do not reach brain maturity until they turn 16.
Reasoning and impulse of children younger than this age are easily affected by their social environment, the group said in a statement last year.
"We should address the root causes instead of punishing children who are just victims of poverty," Elago said.
In 2016 alone, UNICEF spent about $25 million in aid to get "experts, nutritionists, doctors, water engineers, [and] educators who advise government on different issues" in the Philippines, said UNICEF Philippines Representative Lotta Sywander.
SEXUAL ABUSE MAY INCREASE THROUGH CYBERCRIME
Though efforts to send aid to children from indigenous tribes and victims of calamities have been made, the number of Filipino kids who suffer from both physical and sexual abuse have yet to be curbed, Sylwander said.
"Almost 28 percent of boys report that they have been sexually abused as children. Girls a little bit less than that. That's a very high figure even globally," Sylwander said.
"Most of that is done by parents, siblings or cousins," she said.
Sylwander said the number of sexually-abused Filipino children are expected to increase if online sex dens that prey on minors continue to operate in the country in the coming years.
Elago called for vigilance in reporting abuses against children even while measures are still in pending in Congress.
A bill that seeks to prohibit spanking and other forms of physical punishment to discipline children was filed in February but has yet to be passed by the Senate.
"The most important is awareness and behavior change in society. They need to be aware that violence actually harms children for life and they will never be able to reach their full potential if they are constantly victims of abuse," Sylwander said.