Child mortality in Philippine history

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

Last Friday, two children were found dead inside a vehicle in Angeles City, Pampanga. An autopsy this week concluded that both children died from suffocation. Footage from a CCTV camera showed that they were playing near the car and got in and were unable to get out, causing them to suffocate inside. The family, however, is claiming foul play and investigation is currently ongoing. It is clear, however, that the parents must also answer a simple question: why was nobody watching these kids as they were outside their home?

Childhood deaths, unfortunately, are not uncommon. In a 2023 United Nations report, the Philippines reported over 60,000 children dying annually before their fifth birthday. Common causes include complications of premature birth, intra-partum complications, and infectious disease. Further, the UN reports that more than 25,000 Filipino babies are stillborn annually. What is not always known, however, and perhaps not always welcome news, are deaths of children because of accidents and negligence.

Historically, we cannot dig deep enough into history for cases of neglect of children or worse, the killing of these innocents, due to incomplete records, especially from the Spanish period. Deaths in Spanish Philippines were simply classified as “natural” or “accidental/violent”. In one previous article of this column in 2022, I discovered at least two troubling deaths of children in 1922: the death of an 8-month-old girl from Manila due to malnutrition and a 4-month-old boy from Lapu-Lapu City listed as having died due to “lack of care”. Clearly, these two cases were indications of neglect of parents or guardians. Digging just a bit deeper into cases involving deaths of children, we have the following two additional cases:

In 1901, in Zambales, a man was sentenced for the murder of a minor child by shooting said child with a rifle and thereby inflicting wounds causing the child to die; and, in 1909, an unmarried woman gave birth to a child who shortly thereafter carried it away and buried it. The child’s body was disinterred and found to be in perfect condition of health, but with an abrasion on both sides of the nose, apparently caused by heavy external pressure.

Many of these cases are, unfortunately, only known to us due to these becoming sensational court cases, but in many instances these are kept silent or not even recorded properly in official records. Only in recent decades have cases involving the abuse, neglect, or killing of children become more fully documented and reported in the media.

We have seen the reports of fathers who, for one reason or another, suddenly go on a murderous rampage and kill their children before also taking their own lives; of parents who allow, and in many cases even force, their minor children to stay up late at night to sell sampaguita bracelets or foodstuffs; the horrendous sexual exploitation of children, usually but not limited to young girls, where in several instances are perpetrated by their own parents; and the usual and very common neglect of children by busy parents which lead these children to stay out in the streets, often falling victims to car accidents, sexual abuse by strangers or, like the two kids in Pampanga recently, death.

We already have strict parricide laws in the country, and we have fortified child abuse laws to protect children. But these are not enough. Many parents forget that child abuse is not just commission of harm on children, but the omission of the needed care for them. The Department of Social Welfare and Development as late as 2018, reminded parents and guardians that “child neglect is child abuse.” The recent deaths of the two children in Pampanga have once more brought the issue of child neglect in the country, and hopefully even stricter laws will be passed to further protect these innocents.

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