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UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children Visits Valenzuela

UN Special Rapporteur Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh
WARM HUG : UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh receives a warm embrace during her visit at the Valenzuela City’s Bahay-Kalinga, recently. Impressed with what she has seen, Ms. Singhateh has taken notes on the good practices on Child Protection of Valenzuela City to be hsared around the world. Recently, Valenzuela City was designated as the 1st Pathfinding City in the world to end the violence against children. (Kaye Magno, Photo/Text)

Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, an international consultant on human rights and institutional reforms, visited Valenzuela City to precisely assess specific child protection situations and children’s rights concerning Bahay Kalinga and Bahay Pagasa. The consultation took place on Bahay Kanlungan, recently.

Valenzuela City’s demographic, local policies, ordinances, rights-based programs, as well as challenges, partnerships, and initiatives taken were introduced by Vice Mayor Lorie Natividad-Borja. Subsequently, Mr. Reynaldo Francisco, a Psychometrician from Bahay Kalinga, went about the shelter’s programs, service flow chart, and organizational staffing.

As the UN Special Rapporteur assimilates Valenzuela City’s experiences in implementing laws on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Ms. Singhateh articulated possible assistance needed and specific interventions on children’s well-being.

“My role as the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children is to look at the child protection system as a whole and to see what’s being done individually on the ground, to see what best practices that everybody else around the globe can learn from. But I also want to know where the gaps are, because it’s only when you know where the gaps are that you can make recommendations. No system is perfect.”

Ms. Singhateh also sought clarifications relating to the City’s practicality and roles of law enforcement officers and social workers. “One child victim of sexual abuse is one too many, the aim is to ensure that no child is a victim of sexual abuse and exploitation, so I would like to see how your laws and policies are applied and practiced on the ground.”

UN Special Rapporteur Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh
Discussion Portion : Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, expressed her gratitude towards Valenzuela City’s warm welcome and asked questions to clarify the program provided to the children in the home care facilities and how the government interventions are being carried out during her visit and tour to Valenzuela City half-way homes, recently. All of her inquiries were promptly addressed by Valenzuela city officials, who also provided her with information on how the operation are being carried out and the program’s final outcomes.

After the meeting, she visited two well-established children’s residential care facilities in Valenzuela City, referred to as “Bahay Kalinga” or House of Care and “Bahay “Pag-asa” or House of Hope situated at Barangay Canumay West, Valenzuela City.

Executive Assistant for Social Welfare and Development Ms. Dorothy Go Evangelista emphasized one program where they save children who are not safe from the streets, “We have a 24-hour team who goes around the city and rescue.” Conversely, UN Special Rapporteur commended Bahay Kalinga and expressed her curiosity about the temporary shelter for children’s capacity, “How is it housed? Because I see you housed street children, victims of sexual abuse, the elderly women of domestic violence, so you have a large group of victims in one home. I would like to know how many children are in the home, the age range— these are all important to me.”

Ms. Dorothy clarified, “Where we are right now is the house for the elderly and Person with Disability (PWD), the house for Bahay Kalinga is really a house only for the child victims. And then just across the street of Bahay Kalinga is Bahay Pag asa, it’s the house of hope, this is where we house children in conflict with the law.”

Details on the capacity were also presented: Bahay Pag asa has a capacity of 50 and clients are 33; Bahay Kalinga has a capacity of 120 and clients are 73; and Bahay Kanlungan has a capacity of 75 and clients are 92. Bahay Kalinga clients’ age range is two up to 17 years old, while Bahay Pagasa clients ranges from 12 to 17 years old.

The kinds of abuse and sexual exploitation that the victims experienced were also tackled. Most perpetrators are relatives or within the family of the victim. In Bahay Kalinga, victims of sexual abuse are 33 out of 73 clients sheltered, their age range is 13 to 17 years old.

Throughout the consultation, Ms. Singhateh pressed on learning more about the structures and processes to emphasize the different services offered and kinds of professionals on duty. Center heads provided more information and highlighted their advocacies and awareness campaign.

Child Protection Center disciplinary members consist of the police, doctors, social workers, and psychometricians. In one sitting, they conduct the medical examination on the child. They all together listen to the stories and problems of the child, this at least avoids further traumatization, “Before when we didn’t have the Child Protection Center, a child had to repeat over and over the story on what happened to them. From the police to the lawyer to the social worker, to the psychometrician, so with the Child Protection Center, they only need to relay, as much as possible, once.”

On the other hand, PLT. Jocelyn Ebora, Deputy Chief of Women and Children’s Protection Desk (WCPD) tackled the police procedure for arrest process. She explained that once the case is reported to their office, there will be an immediate arrest of the perpetrator, if it’s under the circumstances of a warrantless arrest. On the contrary, immediate investigation is done. Then the victim is referred to the Child Protection Center. To boot, the UN Special Rapporteur commended PLT. Ebora’s 19 years of service in Women and Children’s Protection unit, because experience in a particular field and location is crucial for an officer to be functional.

Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh and WES Gatchalian
Safest City for Children : After the meeting between the City Government of Valenzuela and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh (left) Mayor WES Gatchalian (right) together visited Bahay Kalinga recently. The tour was also attended by (not in the photo) USEC Council for The Welfare of Children, Angelo Tapales, Vice Mayor Lorie Natividad-Borja, Executive Assistant for Social Welfare and Development Dorothy Evangelista, and Child Protection Center head, Kristina Ramos. Mama Fatima’s visit aimed to study the comprehensive Child Protection services in Valenzuela City having the first LGU-run City Child Protection Center in the National Capital Region and third in the Philippines. (Kaye Magno, Photo/Text)

In assistance for children testifying in court, there is a Kids and Teens Court Awareness Program in partnership with Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma Foundation, Inc. that provides support and knowledge about the court and justice system. Related to this, Ms. Ma. Kristina C. Ramos, Center Head of Child Protection Center, explained that the city has its Children Help Desk offices in barangays, these can help children testify and tell their stories in court.

During the meeting with UN Special Rapporteur, Ms. Dorothy also carved up one of CSWDO’s future programs, “A safe button. This is an application to be used by children wherein when they feel they are not safe, or if they witness something along the road, all they need to do is to report cases.”

Ms. Lourdes M. Gardoce, Center Head of Bahay Pagasa, also shared that they are currently working to start Buklod Paglaom in coordination with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), one of the components of the program is the aftercare plan for Children in Conflict with the Law (CICL) who are completing rehabilitation inside Bahay Pagasa. They are monitored by Social Welfare Officer II, Franz Leonel Espeso. At present, there are 18 completers of Buklod Paglaom program.

Also present in the meeting were Valenzuela City Mayor WES Gatchalian, USec. Angelo M. Tapales- Executive Director V of Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC), Atty. Gerald Gascon Bitonio- Director IV of Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat (PHRCS), Ms. Prescilla Vallarta- CGADH II of CSWDO, Ms. Linda Santiago- Focal, Women and Family Welfare Unit, Ms. Melinda V. Aquino- Center Head of Bahay Kalinga, and PCOL Salvador Salazar Destura Jr. Acting Chief of Police of Valenzuela City Police Station (VCPS).

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