"Children are inherently vulnerable. They cannot, on their own, participate in nation-building."
Last Thursday, a study group composed of representatives of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children, Tingog Party-List through the office of Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez and several child welfare stakeholders convened for the first time to discuss the crafting of the proposed Magna Carta of Children. In a privilege speech at the House of Representatives last November 18, 2019, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC), Romualdez, currently the chair of the Committee on the Welfare of Children, identified the crafting and passage of the Magna Carta of Children as the committee’s “utmost priority” in the 18th Congress.
As mentioned in her privilege speech, the proposed Magna Carta of Children is intended to be “a more comprehensive legislative measure that will not only encourage the protection of children from threats and harm, but more importantly ensure positive support for ‘the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.’” It is hoped that the bill will “create the environment needed to steer the growth and welfare of Filipino children in all aspects of life.”
Finally rolling their sleeves to begin the work of crafting this important proposed legislative measure, the study group identified five key objectives for the task ahead. In putting together a comprehensive Magna Carta for Children, the stakeholders aim to guarantee the direct implementation, full compliance and optimal impact of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child; ensure consistency between international obligations and national legislation in matters involving children’s rights and welfare; enable a systematic review of existing domestic child welfare legislation; meaningfully affirm the role and participation of children in nation-building; and finally, strengthen the child-serving institutions of government, particularly the Council for the Welfare of Children.
This effort of “incorporating” international conventions into domestic legislation is not entirely new in the Philippines. In 2009, Congress passed the “Magna Carta of Women,” a comprehensive women’s human rights law that seeks to eliminate discrimination through the recognition, protection, fulfillment and promotion of the rights of Filipino women, especially those belonging in the marginalized sectors of the society. This landmark legislation serves as “local translation” of the provisions of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
In like manner, the proposed Magna Carta of Children hopes to put together a framework of rights for children based directly on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Doing so will affirm the correlation and ensure consistency between our international obligations as defined by the UN-CRC and existing as well as future child-related national legislation. This way, a Magna Carta of Children will put in place an affirmative and proactive culture of protecting, preserving and promoting children’s rights and welfare across local and national government. This will assure that the government at all levels is able to act effectively in the best interests of all Filipino children.
Last Thursday’s discussion was well-participated, not only by the government’s children welfare agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Council on the Welfare of Children, and the Commission on Human Rights but also by several civil society organizations, mostly belonging to the Child Rights Network, the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the country. Also present was a representative from the Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality, currently chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros. Steering the discussion was Mari Fe Janet Domingo-Sumalpong, Committee Secretary of the Committee on the Welfare of Children with a presentation by Atty. Anjanette Saguisag of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the salient details of the UN-CRC.
The first meeting of the study group concluded with a shared commitment to fully support the crafting and, hopefully, the passage of the said bill. Mentioned in particular was the need to involve the children themselves in the preparing the bill. To this end, the study group hopes to bring the discussions on the bill to the grassroots, through roadshows and community consultations. All stakeholders expressed their excitement about the work ahead of them, knowing the significant positive impact that it will have on child welfare in the country.
The general consensus among stakeholders was to use the UN-CRC as the guiding framework in the preparation of the Magna Carta of Children, taking into consideration all existing child-related legislation as well as addressing the present challenges in providing a healthy environment for children to live and grow into responsible adults. It was also suggested that the Magna Carta include not only the rights of children, but also indicate their obligations and responsibilities as well. Lastly, the group agreed that in putting together a draft Magna Carta, care must be taken not to simply “repeat” what is already provided for in the UN-CRC, but instead contextualize its provisions taking cognizance of the unique challenges confronting Filipino children today. Of equal importance also is the need for a continuing evaluation toolkit, or a report card system that will track and measure the implementation of the proposed bill, once passed into law.
Passing a Magna Carta of Children, however, has still a long way to go. The study group’s task is simply to develop a working draft, which afterwards will be turned over to a formal technical working group. However, the study group hopes that the bill will be filed by July this year, in time with the opening of the Second Regular Session of the 18th Congress.
Championing the bill, of course, is Tingog Partylist Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez, a staunch child welfare advocate herself. Together with House Majority Leader and Leyte First District Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Yedda Romualdez also authored the Safe Haven for Abandoned Newborn Infants Bill (HB 4158), the Bill Increasing the Age for Determining Statutory Rape and Other Acts of Sexual Abuse and Exploitation (HB 4160), the Alternative Child Care Bill (HB 5581) and the Bill Imposing Stiffer Penalties for Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination (HB 0137). Under her leadership, the House Committee on the Welfare of Children has also passed at the committee level, the Magna Carta of Child Development Workers Bill, the Parents-Teachers-Community Association Bill and the Bill Creating a Special Trust Fund for Abandoned, Neglected and Voluntary Committed Children authored by House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.
True to its campaign promise, Tingog Party-List is doing its best to deliver on its legislative agenda. As principal author, Rep. Romualdez has also successfully pushed for the approval at the committee level the Disaster Resilience Bill (HB 1151), the Alternative Learning System Bill (HB 1586), the Yolanda Commemoration Day Bill (HB 3300) and the EVSU Dulag Satellite Campus Bill (HB 4959). Representatives Yedda and Martin Romualdez were also among the principal co-authors of the Malasakit Center Act (RA 11463) and the Salary Standardization Law (RA 11466).
Unlike other sectors of society, children are inherently vulnerable. They cannot, on their own, participate in nation-building. They need their families, the government and the wider community, to provide the requisite care, guidance, health and education services, especially in their early formative years. Sadly, the important role that today’s children will play as tomorrow’s stakeholders do not often receive the full attention that it requires. But what better path to guarantee a strong and secure future for our country than to prepare our children more intently for the role they are set to play as citizens, to prevent risks and threats to their positive growth, to promote their welfare and well-being, to encourage their full participation, and to institute stronger social protection programs that will benefit them and their families?
This is the promise that the Magna Carta of Children commits to fulfill.