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Forgotten casualties: Groups urge concern for children orphaned by the drug war


Children's groups on Monday talked about the impact of the war on drugs on Filipino children, and urged the government to take measures to address their emotional and psychological needs.

In a conference organized by the Civil Society Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC Coalition), World Vision president Marc Joseph Alejo pointed out that while the death of an innocent child during a drug operation—like four-year-old Althea Fhem Barbon—is devastating, even those who survive could suffer debilitating consequences.

"Pinapatay ‘yong mga parents sa harap ng mga bata," he told the press on Tuesday. "It has a devastating impact on the children."

In the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism's (PCIJ) "Paglaki Ko (When I Grow Up): Children of the drug war speak out," which showed the grief of young kids who lost their parents to Duterte's bloody war, the children were angry. Some called for justice; one explicitly wanted to take revenge.

But these children of the dead are beginning to disappear—whether because they are unaccounted for, or because their needs are ignored.

Generation of orphans

Reports from December 2016 peg the number of children who have been orphaned by the drug war at 18,000, based on an estimate by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Representatives from the DSWD told GMA News Online in a phone interview on Tuesday that they do not have actual data on children who lost their parents in the drug war.

The PDEA's most recent "RealNumbersPH" data puts the official tally of deaths in legitimate drug operations at 4,999 from July 2016 to October 2018. Even this number—which is on the low end of tallies compiled about the deaths in the drug war—could mean hundreds of children orphaned.

Asked to confirm the number, PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino told GMA News Online, "We regret to inform you that PDEA has no data on children that were orphaned because of the drug war."

Whatever the number of orphans created by the anti-drug campaign, the problem must still be addressed, said advocates.

The Medical Action Group, a civil society organization focused on promoting health services, said that the experience of losing one or both parents causes intense psychological distress and may lead to children feeling resentment, mistrust, and anger towards society.

The CRC Coalition and its partner organizations recommend that the government invest in psychosocial interventions and other forms of assistance for children traumatized by the death of their parents in the drug war.

Erasure

Moreover, the CRC Coalition calls for a review of protocols in handling children who surrender or are arrested by the police. Children as young as six who surrender to the authorities under the anti-drug campaign are similarly at risk of erasure.

"Naaresto sila, [tapos] wala tayong data kung saan sila napupunta," Minerva Cabiles of Save the Children told the press.

These children might be sent to rehabilitation centers that are meant for adults, which means that their needs may not be met. They could also be subjected to abuse.

The CRC Coalition asserted that the government must provide appropriate intervention or diversion programs in accordance with the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. — BM, GMA News

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