By Maria Victoria Rufino
French philosopher Albert Camus once wrote, “Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children.”
The world is undergoing tumultuous upheavals and destructive wars. The first victims of conflict, poverty, disease, and natural calamities are the innocent children and vulnerable adolescents who are constantly exposed to hazardous conditions and evil elements.
The recent Ako Para Sa Bata International Conference (presented by Child Protection Network, UNICEF, and the Consuelo Zobel Alger Foundation) had an overflow crowd of 2,700 participants. The invocation was a prayer song by the kids of Virlanie Foundation. An excerpt was particularly inspiring.
“In omnibus amare et servire Domino.” “In everything, love and serve the Lord,” Secretary Rolando Joselito Bautista of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) explained in the introduction of his insightful speech. He spoke about the young people who are considered “the most valuable resource of a country.”
As a baby boomer, he described his average working-class family background. Life was tough but he had simple childhood pleasures that were so different from the high-tech cyber needs of the millennials, and generations Y and Z.
“There was personal communication in the family, with friends, neighbors, teachers, religious and members of the community. Storytelling and games were transformed by us to cater to our imagination… Tablets, iPads, cellular phones, and electric gadgets were solely for the rich. Social media and ‘public spaces’ were unheard of. Ours was a world fueled by the figment of our imagination and the use of all our senses.
“Today’s families rely heavily on technology. To get them through almost everything, including taking the place of… the human touch — where love, care, concern were seen and felt in person-to-person interactions and forms of personal communication — handwritten letters, singing telegrams, slum books…
“What I do know from being a parent, a soldier (a retired General), and have learned on the job as head of a government agency is that teens need a solid framework of genuine empathy, love and support, patience and understanding, from family, peers, and the community in order to protect themselves from risks and their unfavorable effects.
“Teenagers are a unique subset of individuals who possess unique challenges during their awkward period of growth and development marked by hormonal changes, social and parental pressure; external and internal difficulties; the world of puberty; school and work problems; gender problems; feeling of being misunderstood, with a longing for parental validation of their feelings and thoughts; stress; bullying; depression and anxiety; cyber addiction; drinking; smoking, disobedient behavior; peer pressure and competition; sexual exploitation; problems… malnutrition and racial discrimination; ethnicity and poverty.”
He said that we should show and genuinely make the teens feel our empathy. We should change our expectations, be positive by focusing on their strengths, interests, abilities, and achievements.
He observed that teens today consider cellular phones and tablets as “an extension of themselves, and social media is an integral part of teenage life… Technology, though necessary in this day and age, has shown us that anything that is over-indulged can be a problem.”
Fake news on social media makes teenagers susceptible to disinformation. They can become victims of online sexual exploitation, cyberviolence, online bullying, and human trafficking.
UNICEF’s National Baseline survey on violence against children revealed that cyber violence has affected half of children aged 13 to 17. One third of cyber violence was in the form of verbal abuse over the Internet or cellular phone, and sexual messages.
The DSWD provides social protection, and promotes the rights and welfare of the poor, marginalized, vulnerable, and disadvantaged individuals, families, and communities. He cited the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino, the Cash Transfer Program of the government that emphasizes health care, education, youth development, parental education and livelihood talks that address issues across generations. So far, there have been more that 6.3 million youth beneficiaries enrolled in schools, colleges and universities.
As the “4Ps” is put into law, there will be an increase of financial assistance to beneficiaries of the program.
The DSWD assists street children and Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL), a restorative justice system with the Juvenile and Justice Welfare Act of 2006 which engages the family and community of the child’s rehabilitation and reintegration.
Human trafficking victims and abused women and children have access to economic and psychosocial shelters, livelihood assistance, counselling, temporary shelter, and treatment at the residential facilities.
The Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) raised concerns about teenage pregnancy. There are 500 teenaged girls who give birth daily. There are 196,000 teenaged girls who get pregnant yearly.
“Working together with the Child Protection Network and UNICEF will close the gaps in the implementation of our government’s policies and programs.
“Parents mentor, elders, will always be seen by teenagers schooled in traditional Filipino values, as authoritative figures in their lives… want to gain independence. It would be good for us to set reasonable limits; allow them to spread their wings, at the same time being nearby when the first sign of trouble beckons… staying ready to jump in… lend a hand when stressful events come around. These teens will be able to develop the confidence and resilience that they need to get over this speed bump!
“A complementary whole-of-the-nation and whole-of-society approach will be the key to harnessing the full potential of the youth of the country,” Secretary Bautista emphasized.
At Christmas time, we say a prayer for peace in our hearts, our families, the community, the country and the world. We have special wishes for the safety, security and development of children and the adolescents.
A Blessed Christmas to all!
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.