Caring and nurturing the ‘best hope’ of the future

AT present, about 73 percent of the country’s public schools are already holding face-to-face classes. In the next academic school year, the Department of Education (DepEd) is looking at 100-percent implementation of face-to-face classes in public schools nationwide.

But is it really safe for children to go back to school already, not just from a Covid-19 pandemic perspective? While it is the right of every child to go to school and learn, get quality education and hone their social skills, is the environment safe? What have the government, the education and school officials done to make schools a safe learning haven for children after a long hiatus due to the pandemic?

Panelists answer questions from the participants. From left are Jamie Gabuya, host; Dr. Lois Engelbrecht, Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA) board member; Zenaida Rosales, CPTCSA executive director; and Gina Lompero, CPTCSA prevention officer.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said that in the best circumstances, schools put children on the path to a promising future, but for many girls and boys globally, school is also where they experience violence, whether through bullying, harassment, verbal abuse, sexual abuse and exploitation, corporal punishment and other forms of humiliation, which may come from a peer, a teacher or even a school authority.

On Friday, May 27, 2022, the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA), a non-governmental organization specializing in the prevention and treatment of sexual abuse in children, launched a campaign called “Making Safe Schools Happen,” an initiative to create awareness about how to make the child’s school environment a safer place to learn.

CPTCSA President Atty. Dario Aguila said that at the 2022 International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect Conference in Quebec, Canada, among the most important conclusions made about the state of services to children is that gaps remain in successfully getting the children and young people to engage with and use the programs and services available in their communities.

“Here in the Philippines, we have found the same thing to be true in our work to provide all Filipino children with access to child protection services. This event hopes to begin the process of connecting our children and communities to the programs and services available to them and in doing so, to remedy this crucial need,” Aguila said during the launch.

Safety in schools for kids

ZENY Rosales, executive director of CPTCSA, believes that schools are ready because child protection policies and other mechanisms of the DepEd are already in place for the longest time, and that’s good news. “However, the DepEd still needs our support, that is why there is a campaign such as this to help DepEd address all child protection issues in all schools in the country. Their main job is to teach but they also have to ensure that children are safe while learning in school.”

Dr. Lois Engelbrecht, board member of CPTCSA, said the campaign’s goal is to reach out to schools in the country rather than wait for teachers to reach out to them. “Better child protection services have shown great results in Western countries, decreasing the amount of sex abuse of children. We hope others will join in this endeavor and that collectively, we can achieve our objective of making our schools and communities healthy places for children to grow, to get help, to learn, to mature, and become positive members of society.”

Guns and mass shootings

REGARDING the recent mass shooting of elementary school children in Uvalde, Texas, in the US, Engelbrecht cited a discussion she had with a Filipino child psychiatrist, and said school shootings or mass shootings are unlikely to happen in the Philippines. “It will never happen because Filipinos have extended and strong family ties. They [Filipino psychiatrist and his colleagues] believe that since the American family is isolated, they don’t get the support, the mental health they need from each other, and that is one of the reasons why there are mass shootings.”

She added that there are mass shootings in the US because there are too many guns, unlike in the Philippines where there are also guns but there are many safeguards that make it difficult to own, buy and possess a firearm.

But then again, which is more dangerous, a child who is abused sexually or killed by a deranged gun wielder? Rosales said the CPTCSA sits in two councils of the government, the Council for the Welfare of Children and the Juvenile Justice Welfare Council, and the child protection programs and mechanisms of the country are evolving. “In fact, the Philippines leads in the crafting of laws related to children. This is our strength, but implementation in the grassroots level remains to be a problem. Laws were written but lacks support and enough funding to implement these laws.”

On the other hand, Gina Lompero, prevention officer of CPTCSA, remarked that the Personal Safety Lessons (PSL) under the campaign is not only directed at children but other support systems that surround children as well. For PSL sessions, the child and the parent both attend together with the teacher. “That is one of the features of the program. It is not specific but covers others who are part of the child’s life. The child is not alone in his or her environment, and the most important part of a child’s protection are the adults or the institutions that surround the child.”

Adult deficit

IN terms of pulling in others to join the advocacy of child protection, Engelbrecht said the CPTCSA has been doing this for the past 25 years, and the schools want this but lack the funds for training. When there are funds, Engelbrecht said schools are happy to take this on. “Some teachers are still apprehensive whenever the word ‘sex’ is mentioned, but once they find out during training that it’s not about sex education but about personal boundaries and see how simple the lessons are, they become more involved. This helps capacitate and increase teachers’ understanding to do what they already want to do.”

Why is there a need to teach personal safety to children? People love children, and many, especially parents, don’t want their children to be hurt in any way, and especially not sexually. Too many children are getting hurt, but while it is the responsibility of adults to keep them safe, data shows that adults are not doing their jobs well enough. Children can’t wait until adults are fully equipped so personal safety lessons in schools are meant to give them the information and skills by also building their self-esteem so that they can participate in their own protection.

Image credits: Juan Moyano |

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