MANILA - Twenty organizations have asked the government to stop rounding up children loitering on the streets amid its crackdown on violators of local laws.
President Rodrigo Duterte last week ordered authorities to pick up loitering teenagers and “take care” of them. His directive came as the police accosted thousands for disobeying the curfew and local ordinances against drinking in public and going out half-naked.
In a statement released Tuesday, socio-civic organizations noted that minors violating the curfew have been the largest group arrested in the campaign against loiterers in Cebu province.
Large numbers of children, they claimed, have also been "arbitrarily removed from public spaces" in Manila.
The groups said there are insufficient safeguards for children taken into custody, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and even trafficking.
Government facilities that shelter rescued minors are also often "seriously overcrowded, understaffed and ill-equipped to meet the needs of children," they said.
They also noted that a recent comment of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) calls on state parties to abolish provisions allowing the removal of children and their families from streets and public places.
The Philippines is a signatory of the UNCRC, the groups said.
They added that removing children from the street fails to address the factors in why they were loitering in the first place, including unemployment, lack of housing, inflation, corruption, domestic violence and inadequate social protection systems.
Aside from stopping the rounding up of children, the groups urged the government to release minors held in custody without prior authority, establish an independent complaint mechanism, and ensure that all child shelters meet standards.
The government, they said, should also hasten the re-establishment of the National Network for Street Children and the development of a national plan of action for homeless minors.
The 20 groups that made the plea include the following.
Action for the Care and Development of the Poor in the Philippines (ACAP)
Amaya Lay in Mindanao Inc (ALAY)
Ateneo de Davao Legal Aid
Bahay Tuluyan Foundation Inc
Child Alert Mindanao
Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC)
Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE)
In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND)
Katilingban Para sa Kalambuan Inc (KKI)
National Council for Social Development
Network Against Killings in the Philippines (NAKPhil)
PETA ARTS Zone Project
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)
Philippine Human Rights Information Center
Pinag-Isang Lakas ng Kabataan (PILAK)
Rise up for Life and For Rights
Salinlahi Alliance for Children's Concerns
Police, meanwhile, said trained personnel from its Women's and Children's Desk practice extreme caution in bringing children to police stations.
“They are not being jailed, they are not being handcuffed because we treat them as victims,” Quezon City police director Chief Supt. Joselito Esquivel said last week.