Safeguarding our children
LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie (The Philippine Star) - February 7, 2013 - 12:00am

One of the ways in which a society is judged is the extent to which it protects the vulnerable. There are few more vulnerable than our children. Working together to protect children from abuse and criminality is a small but important element in the bigger jigsaw of UK-Philippine relations.

Throughout my time in the Philippines I’ve been privileged to be a member of the board of trustees of the Child Protection Network Foundation. The CPN started in 1997 with the establishment of a Child Protection Unit at the Philippine General Hospital, a dedicated emergency room and clinic for abused children. Under the leadership of its executive director, Dr Bernie Madrid, it has gone from strength to strength. Similar units have been established across 35 cities and provinces, with more to come. This network delivers medical, social, counselling and legal services to abused children. It trains physicians, social workers, police, prosecutors, judges and court personnel in the full range of child protection issues. 

My involvement reflects a long-standing connection between the CPN, the British Embassy and the United Kingdom’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. CEOP, as it is known, is our specialist police agency responsible for child protection issues — online and offline. It’s part of how the UK delivers child protection, including tackling trafficking and sexual abuse. 

Child abuse and exploitation is not unique to one country. It happens across borders, and through cyberspace. Over the years, CEOP has worked and shared experience with the PNP and the NBI. This collaboration is bearing fruit. But prevention is better than cure. In cooperation with other law enforcement colleagues, including from Australia and the USA, and local partners such as CPN and DepEd, CEOP seeks to raise awareness of the issues and build capacity.  

Next week, CEOP personnel will once again visit the Philippines to deliver bespoke training for teachers, medical staff and law enforcement officers and speak to colleagues in law enforcement. They will launch the International Child Protection Certificate. This document provides reassurance that the holder does not have any adverse history concerning the safety of children. It is available for anybody who has lived or worked in the UK, and is based on our national system for background checks on people working with children. This can be utilised in the Philippines, or could serve as the model for a Philippine-specific certificate.

Business and politicians can make a difference too. The Philippines has passed a range of laws on protection of children and against human trafficking and child pornography. On Monday the Senate had its first hearing to ratify the UK-Philippine extradition treaty. I hope that ratification is completed soon to allow us to remove from the Philippines any Britons against whom there might in the future be evidence of criminal activity against children. And many Philippine business leaders are supportive as witnessed by those who generously attended the CPN’s annual fund-raising gala at Manila Polo Club last month.

Child abuse is a distressing subject. But the breadth and range of people who have signed up to participate in CEOP’s activities next week (including The Philippine STAR) and the growing awareness amongst the wider public is a sign that this problem isn’t too sensitive or difficult a subject to be openly debated and solved.

The British Embassy and partners are launching a Safeguarding Children Online campaign on 12 February. Visit the British Embassy Manila website to learn more:

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(Stephen Lillie is the British Ambassador to the Philippines.)


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