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RM awardee rallies support for child protection

Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star
RM awardee rallies support for child protection
While Madrid and her colleagues at the Child Protection Unit of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH-CPU) are burdened with tremendous tasks on account of what the country’s child protection system lacks, their spirits remain unbroken as they are constantly reminded of their first case more than two decades ago when a toddler, Anna, was brought to the center.
STAR / File

MANILA, Philippines — The knowledge that child abuse is taking place all over the country has been keeping Filipino pediatrician Bernadette Madrid – among this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award laureates – occupied most of her week for the past two decades, trying to drum up support for programs to protect children, and interventions for survivors of abuse and exploitation.

While Madrid and her colleagues at the Child Protection Unit of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH-CPU) are burdened with tremendous tasks on account of what the country’s child protection system lacks, their spirits remain unbroken as they are constantly reminded of their first case more than two decades ago when a toddler, Anna, was brought to the center.

Anna was found in a patch of grass in a subdivision in Parañaque City in 1997 by a man who heard the three-year-old bawling, naked, covered in wounds and her nails pulled out.

“She was not talking, she was just crying and the man brought her to PGH,” Madrid told The STAR. “Everyone was so shocked when the child arrived and all our hearts were bleeding for her.”

It took Anna months to recover from her physical wounds, but her emotional and psychological trauma – like thousands of Filipino children – will take a whole life to heal.

“When we say long-term, it’s like maybe 50 years later, the effects of the abuse could still be felt. There are mental health consequences, physical and even decades-after effects are the chronic diseases: hypertension, diabetes, certain cancers,” Madrid said, citing their medical study on the physiological toll of abuse.

Anna was eventually adopted by an American couple and lives with them in the US, where she can afford topnotch mental health and medical care services.

However, thousands like her in the Philippines might not be as fortunate.

To illustrate the severity of the problem, Madrid – dubbed by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation as a “child rights crusader” – said while 80 percent of all Filipino children are experiencing violence, there are only about 700 psychiatrists and 1,500 psychologists for a country populated with over 100 million people.

Thousands of Filipino children also remain vulnerable to violence and lives of crime due to the weakness of social safety nets for the impoverished.

While the shortage of professionals causes a flood of referrals for psychosocial therapy at the PGH-CPU, the institution is currently training social workers to render trauma-informed psychosocial services to make up for what the country lacks in mental health services.

PGH

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