Finding Hope inside a Bahay Pag-asa

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted the world and its effects have disproportionately affected the most vulnerable groups in society. Children are differently affected by the global health crisis as school openings were delayed, stay-at-home orders for minors were enforced, and prolonged isolation has taken its toll on children’s mental health. As we slowly transition to a new normal, children deprived of their liberty are grappling with feelings of isolation and loneliness from being separated from their loved ones. The children inside the Bahay Pag-asa or House of Hope in the Philippines continue to wait, not only for the return of the normal but also of their second chance.

The Caloocan City Bahay Pag-asa is a child-caring institution established in 2018 and managed by the Caloocan City local government as mandated by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act as amended. Under the law, a Bahay Pag-asa shall provide short term residential care for children in conflict with the law (CICL) or those children who are alleged, accused, or adjudged to have committed an offense under Philippine laws and who are awaiting the court disposition of their cases or transfer to other facility.

 The three-story Caloocan City Bahay Pag-asa is home to around forty to sixty CICL and children at risk (CAR). The programs for the children under their care include alternative learning education, skills training, leisure activities, medical and dental check-ups, and family visits among others. To help curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Caloocan City Bahay Pag-asa has put in measures to ensure the health and safety of the children and staff. This includes shifting from physical visits to virtual or electronic-visits through phone or video calls, quarantine before admission, and adjusted schedules for house parents and staff. These changes brought about by the pandemic have severely disrupted the children’s routines and have affected their mental health and morale.

“Nalulungkot kami kasi di na namin kapiling ang mga mahal naming sa buhay” (We are sad because we’re not with our loved ones) a seventeen-year-old boy shared, while one of the girls tearfully revealed how she felt extremely sad because she turned eighteen and celebrated her debut inside the facility during the pandemic. Although there were instances where family members were able to deliver food and clothes at the center, they were only allowed to hand these over to the staff at the gate and in these cases, children make do with sharing a few minutes with their loved ones by shouting and waving through the steel barred windows. These short interactions usually end up with tears from both the child and the family member. While these feelings are common amongst those deprived of their liberty, health protocols limiting physical visits and reunions exacerbate these feelings of loneliness especially for the children.  Without a strong support system and program, this could potentially lead to depression, anxiety, or self-harm. These protocols are also difficult for families who are struggling financially as cost for gadgets and reliable internet data for videocalls put a strain in their budget. Moreover, these barriers make it hard for the children in detention to enjoy their right to maintain contact with their family as provided for under the law.

(One of the answers of the children during a visioning activity: “I feel worried for my parents because I don’t know what they’re doing and if they are okay, if they are eating on time. I am also worried for my family because I am not with them because I am here in the Bahay Pag-asa and I really miss them.”)

Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center, Inc (CLRDC) is a local children’s rights organization which provides basic legal assistance and psychosocial support for the children inside the Bahay Pag-asa even during the time of pandemic. Under the “Following The Child..” Project together with Balay Rehabilitation Center and DIGNITY, the Danish Institute Against Torture, carefully crafted modules which incorporate music and arts, body movements and group works, focus on visioning and human rights orientation activities for children in the Caloocan City Bahay Pag-asa. These interactions are important not only to alleviate the children’s feelings of isolation but to also give them space to share their feelings, fears, and dreams. Giving the children time and the opportunity to be heard and participate in activities will not make them feel left out and remind them that they matter and that they have a voice worth listening to.

The visioning and human rights orientation sessions help to draw out the children’s experiences and their hopes. Some of them aspire to be fashion designers, welders, seafarers and law enforcement officers. For a lot of them who have experienced some form of violence in one way or another, their hopes and dreams reflect basic and often overlooked opportunities such as access to education and decent work so that they can give back to their family and loved ones. These sessions, albeit short, allow the children to feel like children again- to find hope and be hopeful.

During one of the visioning activities, Anna*, who spent her birthday inside the Bahay Pag-asa shared,“Kapag natupad ko na ang aking pangarap sa buhay ay bibilhan ko ng bahay at lupa ang aking mga magulang at bibigyan ko sila ng magandang pangkabuhayan para sa sarili nilang pangangailangan. Walang imposible sa taong may pangarap.”(When I finally reach my goals in life, I will buy a house and lot for my parents and I will give them a good livelihood for their needs. Nothing is impossible to a person who dreams.). With the space created by these activities for the children to share their thoughts and dreams, indeed, there is hope inside the Bahay Pag-asa.

 (One of the answers of the children during a visioning activity: “I am happy because I met CLRDC here in the Bahay Pag-asa. I am also happy because they visit us. Thank you for the time.”)

*Not her real name


‘Victory for children’: Philippines set to raise age of consent

Mon, 21 December 2020, 12:44 pm GMT+8

Manila teenager Rose Alvarez was 13 when she started having sex with a man who was more than twice her age. That would be statutory rape in most countries, but not in the Philippines.

The Catholic-majority country has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world, allowing adults to legally have sex with children as young as 12 if they agree.

Child rights activists have lobbied for decades to increase the age — enshrined in the penal code since 1930 — but faced resistance from what they describe as a “culture of patriarchy” in a country where abortion and divorce are illegal.

Congress now looks set to approve a bill to raise the age to 16.

Campaigners say the legislation would help protect youngsters in a nation that has become a global hotspot for online child sex abuse and where more than 500 teenagers get pregnant and give birth every day.

“This is a victory for Filipino children,” Patrizia Benvenuti, UNICEF’s chief of child protection in the Philippines, said recently as the proposed legislation moved closer to a final vote.

“Pegging 12 as the age of consent is really not consistent with scientific studies on brain development.”

Alvarez, who got pregnant when she was 14, says she now realises she had been too young for a sexual relationship and the demands of motherhood.

“I was still a child then, I didn’t know anything about sex,” Alvarez, now 16, told AFP at a clinic run by the Likhaan Center for Women’s Health in Navotas, one of the poorest areas of Manila.

“I was telling him to use a condom… but he removed it. He didn’t want to use it,” said Alvarez, whose name has been changed to protect her identity.

Alvarez — who until the age of 12 thought it was possible to get pregnant from kissing — said she was drunk the first time she slept with the man, who was about 29 when they met on Facebook.

“When I woke up I was shocked to see blood in my underwear and it hurt a lot,” she recalled. “I was too intoxicated to know what was happening.”

– ‘Victim blaming’ –

Child rape and sexual abuse are rampant in the Philippines, according to official data.

A woman or child is raped nearly every hour, Senator Risa Hontiveros said in a document to the Senate, citing figures from the Center for Women’s Resources.

Seven out of 10 victims are children and the vast majority are girls, she said.

A government-backed nationwide study in 2015 showed one in five children aged 13-17 experienced sexual violence, while one in 25 were raped during childhood, UNICEF said.

But prosecuting adult perpetrators in rape cases involving children as young as 12 has been difficult because they can argue the sex was consensual, said Rowena Legaspi, executive director of the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center.

“Imagine a 12-year-old… that girl is still a minor,” Legaspi told AFP. “How could she have consented?”

The proposed bill would make it automatically illegal and carry a penalty of life imprisonment, though it would not punish young couples close in age.

It is expected to be approved by the Senate in the coming months before going to President Rodrigo Duterte to be signed into law.

Activists say increasing the age of consent will deter sexual predators.

But they caution more needs to be done to combat sexual violence against children and one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Southeast Asia.

All children should have access to age-appropriate sex education “from an early age” as well as information and services to make sex safer and avoid unplanned pregnancies, said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch.

Sexist and “victim blaming” attitudes among prosecutors and judges also needed to be changed, and cases needed to move faster, said Legaspi.

It currently take years for a rape case to reach court, by which time the victim may be an adult — and in some cases, the accused has died.

“We have so many laws that protect children but the problem is the implementation,” said Legaspi.

“You only change the law but the system is still there.”

– ‘I want to have fun’ –

Not everyone favours increasing the age of consent.

A social worker dealing with adolescents in impoverished areas of Manila told AFP it could push relationships between children and adults underground, making it more difficult to assist youngsters in need.

Donna Valdez, 15, says it should be left to the couple to decide if they are ready to have sex.

She was 13 when she met her current boyfriend, who is 10 years older than her, on Facebook.

After chatting online for two months, they slept together. Soon she was pregnant.

The couple live together and under the proposed bill he could be charged with rape.

Valdez had no regrets becoming a mother so young, she told AFP as her 10-month-old son wriggled in her lap at the health centre.

“We’re happy that we’re blessed with a child,” said Valdez, not her real name.

But Alvarez says she misses her old life.

“I want to go out with friends again, I want to have fun,” she told AFP.

“I’m jobless, my parents are also out of work. Where will we get money for my baby’s needs?”

Alvarez hopes to finish high school so she can work overseas — like millions of other Filipinos whose monthly remittances help support their families at home.

“I’m too young to be worn out,” she said.

“I still have plans, I want to marry an American to have a better life.”


Children’s Rights must be respected at all times even in containing the COVID-19 virus


Manila, 9 April 2020 – Following numerous news articles and reports of arrests and severe abuse of children in the framework of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC) , a human rights organization in the Philippines that promotes child protection and restorative justice,  urges the Government to strictly abide by the rule of law and protect the most vulnerable members of our society. 

COVID-19 poses a multidimensional threat to nations around the world, thus fully justifying the Government’s decision to declare a state of public health emergency. However,

CLRDC is alarmed by the growing number of directly verified reports of abuses and violence committed against children, who are a vulnerable group at all times, even more during a pandemic.

CLRDC has directly monitored violations of children’s rights during the implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon. While some children were arrested and detained for curfew violations, others were allegedly subjected to torture such as shaving of their hair, shaming, and threatening with physical harm including threats of being shot. Other incidents revealed that several minors were detained in a dog cage and others were forced inside a coffin to deter them from further curfew violations.

These incidents constitute blatant violations of Section 3 (a) of the Anti-Torture Act of 2009 and other child protection policies, especially Republic Act No. 10630 known as the Comprehensive Juvenile Justice and Welfare System, as well the Philippines’ international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Convention against Torture.

CLRDC reminds the authorities that, under Republic Act No. 10630, no penalty shall be imposed upon minors who violate curfew ordinances and they shall be immediately released to the custody of their parents.

Amid the mounting pressure brought about by the ongoing health crisis,  the CLRDC urges the Government of the Philippines to abide by the rule of law and to ensure that fundamental rights remain in place. It further exhorts law enforcement officers and other persons in positions of authority to respond to this crisis in a manner consistent with existing conventions, laws and protocols, and to be guided by the principles of human rights, especially when dealing with children.

CLRDC remains committed to the protection and welfare of all children at this difficult time.


The Children’s Legal Advocacy Network (CLAN) calls on the House of Representatives to reconsider its decision to lower the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR) to twelve (12) years.

Lowering the MACR would mean a drastic interference with children’s fundamental rights. Detention of children harms their social, emotional and physical development as well as it violates their right to freedom of movement, to access education and the right to grow up in a healthy and supportive environment. By ratifying the UN children’s right convention, the Philippines dedicated themselves to include the key principles of the convention into their law. The best interest of the child, non-discrimination, child participation, survival and development should be non-derogable but will be violated if the bill of lowering the MACR will be passed.­

The proponents of the MACR bill kept on repeating their arguments that children are being used by syndicates to perpetrate a crime. The violations of laws are mainly connected to lax in the social system. If the syndicates, parents or other adults abuse minors for their criminal actions because of the deprived economic circumstances in their lives, this can be prevented through improvement in the social welfare system. And if according to them children are used by syndicates, therefore children are the victims and the laws should punish the syndicates, not the children. Reducing the MACR only lowers the age of the abused children in reality. This would be completely contradictory to the principle of child’s best interest.

Furthermore, in making international comparisons on the MACR, the different social and economic conditions must be considered. We cannot just pick out one law of a whole system and try to impose it on the Philippines, who have a complete different political and social background. If we take Western Europe as an example for criminal liability at the age of 13, it is to be noted that their judicial treatment is completely different and the standard of accommodating youth offenders are higher. For example: In Austria the best interest of the child means to get support within and for the whole family instead of punishing with detainment.

Rehabilitative approaches are the future to prevent a further increase of criminality rates. To make them effective, a greater effort needs to be made in view of the implementation of the current Juvenile Justice Law. As children are the future of our country, laws must protect them instead of putting them in the pillory.