Family and friends hold a funeral procession for a victim of a drug-related killing in an urban poor community in Manila. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Children in the Philippines are not spared from the government's war on drugs. Some are directly killed, others have become "collateral damage."
The juvenile justice law in the country is being challenged by President Rodrigo Duterte. He has repeatedly slammed the existing juvenile justice system, expressing the need to lower the age of criminal responsibility of minors from 15 years old to nine.
The present law states that a child who is 15 years old or younger at the time of the commission of a crime shall remain exempted from criminal liability. The offender, however, will be subjected to an intervention program by the government.
The United Nations Children's Fund has expressed opposition to the Duterte administration's plan.
The organization says that to lower the age of criminal liability is against human rights and will make children criminals.
In May, pollster Pulse Asia released the result of a survey that showed that 55 percent of Filipinos believe that the minimum age of criminal liability in the Philippines should remain at 15 years old.
The Philippine Congress decided to uphold the existing law amid pressure from various children's rights activists and organizations.
According to the Women and Children Protection Center of the Philippine National Police, a total of 26,415 children allegedly involved in the use, sale or transport of drugs had surrendered to authorities as of January.
The Children's Legal Rights and Development Center, meanwhile, documented and verified 40 child deaths between July 2016 and April 2017. No one has been held accountable.
Children's rights violated
On March 31, Justin, a 16-year-old boy from the city of Navotas was arrested by police who were looking for the boy's older brother who was accused of robbery. The authorities said they would only release the boy if the older brother surrendered or was caught.
The older brother did not show up. The younger brother was later found dead. The family grieved for their son's death, but the same group of policemen came back and told the family not to pursue an investigation into the killing.
In another part of Metro Manila, a 15-year-old girl was arrested one morning while babysitting a neighbor's baby. She was arrested by the police and accused of being involved in the drug trade. She was put behind bars.
While in detention, the young girl was told she would be released in exchange for sex.
At a child-caring institution also in the Philippine capital, Jenny, who claims to be a transgender woman was arrested. Despite her sexual orientation and gender identity, she was put in a cell with men. She was even forced to speak in a "manly" voice. She was sexually assaulted by her fellow inmates.
With the death toll of alleged drug suspects rising, the number of children who have lost parents is also growing. The government's social welfare office estimates that some 18,000 children have been orphaned.
The Philippine government's attempt to solve the drug menace in the country has resulted in a string of deaths on Manila's streets, including those of children. It has become an urgent task for civil society groups and organizations to remain vigilant in the midst of what can only be called state-sponsored impunity.
Reuben James Barrete is a development worker in Manila whose focus is on human rights, poverty solutions, and social protection. He is taking up a Masters degree in International Studies at the University of the Philippines.