'Negligent in the extreme': HRW says Philippines fails to assist children affected by 'drug war'

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'Negligent in the extreme': HRW says Philippines fails to assist children affected by 'drug war'
This photo taken on June 27, 2019, shows policemen at the crime scene where the body of a barangay (inner city neighbourhood) health worker and former drug surrenderee Michael Oescayno, lies on the ground after unidentified gunmen.
AFP / Noel Celi

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government failed to assist the children whose parents or guardians have been killed in the administration’s brutal war on drugs, making their impoverished situations worse, the Human Rights Watch said.

In a report released Wednesday, the human rights organization detailed how the children orphaned in the drug war—which began in mid-2016—have suffered psychological distress, experienced bullying and stigmatization, and face economic hardship.

“The killing of drug suspects affects the families left behind not just in terms of death but also what happens afterwards: families driven deeply into poverty, some children forced to live in streets, children being forced to work and stop schooling, bullying in schools and their communities because of the stigma of drug use of family members,” Carlos Conde, HRW Philippines researcher, said.

One of the children interviewed said she became distressed and bullied in school after police shot her father in her presence in 2016, while another has been living on the streets and working to support his family after he was orphaned. 

The HRW said that while the government sometimes pays for the burial expenses of family members killed in operations, it has no specific programs addressing the needs of children whose families have been destroyed by the drug war.

HRW said an unidentified former senior official of the Department of Social Welfare and Development told the rights watchdog in an interview that the impacts of the anti-drug campaign on children had not been raised in any Cabinet meeting as of May 2019.

“This is negligent in the extreme,” Phil Robertson, HRW Asia deputy director, said.

“Killings get the attention of the top people but repairing the damage and having accountability, these are the things not spoken of in Malacañang Palace,” he added.

RELATED: Bato plays Santa to children of suspected drug addicts

‘Step up’

Aside from calling on the government to put an end to the ferocious war on drugs and investigate the killings, HRW also urged agencies, particularly the DSWD, to reach out to families who have lost loved ones in the brutal campaign.  

“They need to step up and try to reach out to these children,” Conde said.

HRW said the DSWD must provide material assistance and targeted financial support programs to the parents and guardians of orphaned children and protect them from economic exploitation. It also called the department to ensure that its conditional cash transfer reach the families of the victims.

The rights watchdog likewise urged the Department Education to ensure that children adversely affected by the anti-drug campaign enjoy their right to free primary educations. Schools must also enforce anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies.

It also recommended that the Department of Health assist the DSWD in providing mental and psycho-social health services to children of families affected by the anti-drug campaign.

“This drug war has created a generation of Filipino children who have been scarred probably forever by the violence… It’s difficult as it is to live in an extremely poor community and being targeted by state agents, by killers roaming on the streets at night. I can’t even begin to imagine how they must feel five, 10 years from now and how this madness will affect their lives,” Conde said.

Latest government figures put the number of alleged drug personalities killed in the war on drugs at 5,601. But the figure is significantly lower than the estimates by human rights watchdog of as many as 27,000.

The UN Human Rights Council is expected to present a report on the human rights situation in the Philippines pursuant to a resolution adopted last year.

The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court earlier said it is seeking to finalize its preliminary examination into the alleged extrajudicial killings linked with Duterte’s anti-drug crackdown this year.

RELATED: Loved ones of deceased drug war victims are finding healing in hiking

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