Your presidential bet should address these children’s issues

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Children’s rights advocates are calling for a “president for all children”

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) – When voting for the coming elections, think about your children.

This is the call of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) not just to parents but to every member of a family that consists of children.

Voting for the coming elections is all about family values, UNICEF Representative to the Philippines Lotta Sylwander told CNN Philippines on Friday (March 11).

“You don’t only think about yourselves. You think about the rest of the family where in the biggest part of the family is probably going to be children, and what do they need and what opportunities do you want to give your children to secure their future,” she said.

Four in 10 Filipinos are children under the age of 18. But as candidates court Filipino voters for the May 9 polls, presidential bets are mum on their platforms for children’s rights.

While children cannot cast their votes – which may be the reason politicians do not bother wooing this vulnerable sector – registered voters who have concern for children’s welfare should take the lead.

Sylwander said the country needs a president that “understands the context and the situation of all children all over the Philippines.”

Here are just two of the priority issues the next president would have to address, according to UNICEF.

Are these in your presidential bet’s platform of government?

Related: What is your presidential candidate's platform of government?

Malnutrition

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Filipino children are too short for their age not simply because of genetics.

Stunting is a result of chronic malnutrition, which is responsible for about one-third of deaths among children under five years of age.

Malnutrition is most severe among children in conflict-stricken areas in Mindanao and indigenous peoples.

“It’s clear that those children sometimes live only on rice and porridge for weeks and months and a little bit of green leaves and very little protein,” Sylwander said.

UNICEF data show that 30 percent of Filipino children never reach their full potential because they are stunted – both physically and intellectually.

“All presidential candidates for sure would want to see their whole population to develop to their full potential to be the best workers they can be, to be the best contributors to the country that they can be,” Sylwander added. 

Will feeding programs solve the perennial problem of malnutrition?

Related: Over 44,000 children in Cordillera benefit from DSWD feeding program

UNICEF said it is not enough.

In an ideal Philippines, parents would know the children’s nutritional needs and feed them good food.

In reality however, around 2.6 million Filipino families experience hunger due to lack of food to eat, according to the latest self-rated hunger survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS). Over 11 million families consider themselves as poor.

WATCH: Does the government's poverty reduction program work?

This is where programs like the Aquino administration’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) comes in, but Sylwander said it has to be modified because it excludes extremely poor families who usually cannot meet the program’s conditions such as sending their kids to school or bringing them to clinics.

Should the next president adapt the CCT program, Sylwander advised a modified cash transfer program especially for children from IPs and street kids.

Related: Fate of CCT program in the hands of next president – Soliman

Violence against children

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It’s not just simple smacking.

UNICEF has recorded that more than 60 percent of Filipino children has experienced serious physical violence from parents, relatives or teachers.

Psychological and sexual violence are also prevalent.

Around 7 in 10 rape victims in the country are children, according to latest available data from the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Related: Kat Alano to rape victims: Don't be afraid

Sylwander said she was surprised at the “high, unacceptable” rate of sexual violence, occurring especially at home, abusing both girls and boys.

“In fact boys come out as majority of victims. We have a high rate of incest and these are not talked about,” she explained.

One of the most important things the next president should prioritize is amending Republic Act 8353 or the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, particularly the clause setting the age of sexual consent to 12 years old.

Under the current law, sexual relations pursued with a child will only be classified as statutory rape when the child is under 12 years of age. If a 12 year-old girl agrees to an intercourse with someone, it would not be considered rape even if children of that age may not fully understand when an abuse is happening.

“In many countries it’s 16, some 18, but never ever 12,” Sylwander said.

Related: Child rape cases in CDO rising

She said she does not understand why efforts to raise the age of sexual consent have not succeeded yet, saying this will be a good first step to protect children against sexual violence.

In the end, the children’s rights advocates are calling for a “president for all children” – including children with disabilities, children in IPs and children in rural or remote areas.