CSOs to lawmakers: Listen to children’s voice in DRR planning

17 February 2015

Civil society organizations working for the protection of children’s rights reiterated their call to Congress to institutionalize child participation in disaster risk reduction (DRR) in a learning session organized by PLCPD last February 13.

Shiela M. Carreon of Save the Children Philippines discussed the right of children to freely express their views and opinion on matters that affect them as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC). She also stressed the importance of providing children or those below 18 years of age the opportunity to participate in policymaking process to ensure that their interests are duly considered by authorities.

These rights are inalienable even when disasters strike, said Leon Fajardo of UNICEF Philippines. He emphasized how disasters exacerbate the natural vulnerabilities of children and undermine the fulfillment of their rights.

Role of children in DRR

Fajardo pointed out that children play a critical role in disaster risk reduction. Children provide a more holistic and long-term perspective in analyzing risks and can communicate their analysis to peers and parents. Their optimistic attitude translates into action and can convince adults to mobilize resources. On the other hand, children also have specific needs during disaster situations.

Carreon cited several countries where children actively participated in the formulation of their community disaster preparedness plans and in information and awareness drives in their communities.

Prospects for legislation

Currently, there are legislative measures that are seen as access points for the advocacy on child participation in disaster risk reduction. These are existing bills on different children and youth issues through which formal mechanisms for child participation in DRR may be introduced.

Armie Evardone, chief of staff of House Bill 5285’s principal author Rep. Susan Yap, discussed the salient points of the said bill, which provides for “a comprehensive and strategic program of action to provide the children affected by disaster, calamity, and other emergency situations support and assistance necessary for their immediate recovery and protection against all forms of neglect, abuse, exploitation and other acts prejudicial to their interest and well-being.” The bill has already been approved by the House of Representatives on Final Reading and is under technical working group discussions at the Senate.

Cathy Alcantara, legislative staff of Rep. Barry Gutierrez, on one hand, talked about the different versions of SK reform and empowerment bills in the House and Senate. Senate Bill 2401 differs mainly from the House version on the age requirement for SK officials and the extent of the ban on political dynasties. In SB 2401, SK officials must be 18-24 years old, while the House version sets the age requirement at 18-21 years. Both bills however provide for more fiscal autonomy to SK.

Commenting on the said bills, representatives from civil society organizations urged the inclusion of an express provision in the bills that will provide for child participation in local disaster risk reduction and management councils to ensure that their concerns are integrated in DRR policies and programs. They also raised their concern that the SK bills deny children the opportunity to directly participate in governance, given the change in the age requirement for SK officials. They also proposed that the SK bills should contain a provision that DRR should be among the priorities of the SK.

Evardone and Alcantara assured the CSOs that their concerns and recommendations will be duly considered by the authors of the bills.

The CSOs present were ZOTO, World Vision, Plan International, VIDES, NGO Coalition on the UNCRC, and ChildFund. Representatives Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, Teddy Brawner Baguilat, and Mel Senen Sarmiento were also represented by their legislative staff.

This learning session was conducted in partnership with UNICEF Philippines.