It is not only poverty that prevents Filipino children from going to school but also bullying, humiliation, physical maltreatment and sexual harassment perpetrated not only by fellow students but also by teachers. And violence against children proves to be prevalent with at least five out of 10 children in Grades 1 to 3, seven of 10 in Grades 4 to 6 and six of 10 in high school experiencing some kind of violence in school.
This was revealed by Plan Philippines, part of an international non-government organization (NGO) concentrating on the welfare and development of children, in the regional launch of its Learn Without Violence campaign on Feb. 20 at Hotel Alejandro in Tacloban City, the regional capital of Eastern Visayas. The launch was attended by academics, students, social workers, journalists, local government officials and representatives from the Department of Social Welfare (DSWD) and Department of Education (DepEd).
Plan, which started operating in the Philippines in 1961, commissioned the Philippine School of Social Work (PSSW) of the Philippine Women’s University in 2005 to study violence against children in public schools, specifically in Masbate, Northern Samar and the Camotes Islands in Cebu, where Plan Philippines has programs. The study involved 2,442 children from 58 public schools, and adult stakeholders such as parents and other community representatives, school personnel and guidance counselors.
In Western Samar in particular, of 127 youths in various Western Samar towns 74 percent claimed they experienced some form of abuse, according to the Plan’s short documentary, Abuso.Among those who claimed they were abuse, 53 percent said they were pinched in the ear or cursed; and 32 percent were pinched. The remaining 15 percent experienced other forms of abuse including the physical and sexual kinds.
According to the study, titled “Towards a Child-Friendly School Environment: A Baseline Study on Violence Against Children in Public School,” verbal abuse―including being ridiculed and teased, being shouted at and being cursed or spoken to with harsh words―is the most prevalent form experienced by children in all school levels.
Fellow students like classmates and peers more than the adults are often the perpetrators in schools with male children more likely to experience physical violence than their female counterparts, the study says.
Furthermore, it also reveals that children accept physical and verbal forms of violence as part of the discipline and seen as appropriate when inflicted within parameters, but “generally prefer a more positive form of discipline such as being talked to and corrected or guided/counseled in response to offenses or violations made in school.”
The study also shows that experiences of violence usually result in low self-esteem, fear, anger and helplessness among children.
It cites some factors contributing to incidences of violence in schools, and these are “family background and personal circumstances; influence of peers and media; lack of awareness about children’s rights; fear; inability of authority figures to respond to cases; abuse of power relations; inadequate capacity to cope with student population and performance demands; and insufficient policies and mechanisms.”
Also according to the study the children and adult “recommend awareness raising and capacity building activities for parents, teachers and children, clear policies and collaborative measures that involve all stakeholders including community leaders as measures to address violence against children in schools.”
Rodel Bontoyan, Plan Philippines ’ area manager in Eastern Visayas , said that their organization prioritizes in reducing and eventually eradicating corporal punishment, bullying and sexual harassment. They are working with communities in increasing their awareness and changing their attitudes. They are also working with the government in helping draft laws concerning violence against children. And they are also working with the media to increase awareness. In fact, Plan Philippines have recruited famous personalities like Mikee Cojuangco-Jaworski to act as ambassadors and have co-produced a series of short videos and documentaries about the issues concerning Filipino children.
One documentary shows a case in which a child was hit on the face with a shoe by his teacher. An empowering video shows a gay child standing up against those taunting him, and another one suggests an alternative punishment for misconduct.
“We envision for all school-age children to enjoy the right to education without fear, threats or violence,” Bontoyan said.