MANILA – The situation of children in the Philippines has slightly improved but “some” are still missing out on childhood, according to the latest report of London-based child aid agency Save The Children.
In Global Childhood Report 2019, the Philippines moved up to 102nd place, 2 notches from 104th place in 2018, but did not recover from being 96th 2 years ago despite the steady economic growth.
The Philippines lags behind other Asian neighbors such as Singapore, which is in first place, China (36th), Brunei Darussalam (63rd), Malaysia (71st), Thailand (86th), and Vietnam (95th).
The report evaluates 176 countries based on children’s access to health care, education, nutrition, and protection from harmful practices like child labor and child marriage.
According to the agency, among critical concerns in the Philippines are teenage pregnancy, malnutrition, and infant mortality that are preventing many Filipino children, especially the most vulnerable, from getting the best possible start in life.
Teenage pregnancy in the Philippines affects 5.99 percent of girls aged 15 to 19, the second highest rate in Southeast Asia after Laos (6.33 percent).
According to Save The Children Philippines, an estimated 300,000 girls aged 15 to 19 will either give birth or have already done so in 2019 alone.
Malnutrition among children is also a critical public health concern in the Philippines with 33.4 percent or 3.8 million children under 5 years not getting enough daily nutrition.
Infant mortality is high too, with nearly 3 percent or 322,000 of children in the country dying before their 5th birthday from preventable causes.
But there is a bright side, as the Philippines has made some progress on access to education, increasing school enrollment by 45 percent over the past 20 years.
In 2008, the percentage of out-of-school youth is at 11.7 percent, dropping to 5.3 percent in 2017. But still, 3.8 million children and young people remain out of school, according to the 2017 data.
While there has been steady economic growth over the past 20 years in the country and globally, Save The Children Philippines CEO Alberto Muyot said it has not translated to improvements in some childhood indicators.
“There’s still a lot of children who are left behind,” Muyot told ABS-CBN News.
“’Yung economic development, hindi bumababa sa mga communities so sila ’yung most affected kasi parang mahirap isipin na kung nag-improve ang buhay ng mga Pilipino, bakit nangyayari pa ito? Hindi sila nakikinabang sa economic development.”
(The economic development does not go down to communities so they are the most affected. It is hard to think that if the lives of Filipinos have improved, why is this happening? They do not benefit from the economic development.)
He said the numbers show the “alarming” situation of children in the Philippines.
“What the government needs to do is to address the issue of inequality and to narrow the gap between those who have and those who do not have. This would mean providing the infrastructure, roads, schools, hospitals and clinics, and other facilities,” he said.
Singapore tops the rankings as the country that best protects and provides for its children, with eight Western European countries and South Korea also ranking in the top 10.
The most dramatic progress was among some of the world’s poorest countries, with Sierra Leone making the biggest improvements since 2000, followed by Rwanda, Ethiopia and Niger.
The Central African Republic ranks last, with Niger – despite recent progress – and Chad rounding out the bottom 3 countries where childhood is most threatened.
The Global Childhood Report also includes the annual End of Childhood Index, which finds that circumstances for children have improved in 173 out of 176 countries since 2000.
This means today there are 4.4 million fewer child deaths per year, 49 million fewer stunted children, 130 million more children in school, 94 million fewer child laborers, 11 million fewer girls forced into marriage or married early, 3 million fewer teen births per year, and 12,000 fewer child homicides per year.
Of the 8 “childhood enders” examined in the report, displacement due to conflict is the only one on the rise, with 30.5 million more forcibly displaced people now than there were in 2000, an 80 percent increase.
Save the Children global data shows the number of deaths due to armed conflict of children under 5 years reached 870,000 between 2013 and 2017, 5 times higher than the 175,000 adult fighters who died during the same period.
In the Philippines, about 1.8 million children still face uncertainties living in war-torn homes and schools while their parents have no stable jobs or livelihood in some troubled areas in the southern region of Mindanao.
“In conflict areas, 1 out of every 2 or 50 percent [of children] are malnourished. There’s also a high rate of dropping out and out of school here,” Muyot said.
From February to March, the number of displaced children in provinces of Maguindanao, Surigao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, and Lanao del Sur due to sporadic fighting reached 77,000.
Last year, 16 children were killed in the crossfire in Mindanao and another 17 children were injured due to another similar incidence.