An advocacy group is fighting for better school child protection measures as the likelihood of them returning to face-to-face learning looms, following the relaxing of COVID-19 measures.

In a statement provided Friday, the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA) stated that the Philippines has a long list of laws and policies that provide support and services to schoolchildren and young students, but that these measures are not being implemented and enforced.

“The Philippines is one of the top countries with the best child protection and child care measures, but we have yet to see these measures directly addressing children, their protection and development,” Zenaida Rosales, executive director of CPTCSA, said.

According to the CPTCSA, school is a child’s safe refuge for learning and socializing with other children and instructors; yet, if a child is afraid to go to school, the institution’s purpose is called into question.

One explanation could be the institution itself, as well as the environment it creates for students, it said. In a national baseline study in 2016 on violence against children, the school was mentioned by 80 percent of children and teens who reported experiences of abuse and violence in their lifetime, along with the community and their households.

The study noted that whether the abuse and violence occurred in the school, neighborhood, or at home, the experience happened more with boys (81.5%) and girls (78.4%).

In light of this, the CPTCSA is launching the “Making Safe Schools Happen” campaign as visualized through a backpack with three important pockets — the largest pocket is filled with notebooks that represent several of the many laws about child protection; the next pocket has geometry implements that symbolize community-based services such as hospital-based child protection units (CPUs), barangay offices and faith-based institutions including the CPTCSA.

The most important pocket is filled with crayons and pencils that represent how students can access these laws and services that include needed information, teaching skills to put the information into practice, and building self-esteem to feel confident in accessing the services. These tools that are put into the hands of the students are the most important part of making safe schools happen, because if students cannot access help, then the helping system is moot.

Among the specific things inside the backpack is the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) notebook detailing Section 32 of RA 7610 providing that “all child-caring agencies and individuals must report suspected child abuse within 48 hours.”

In the Personal Safety Mandate notebook is Department of Education (DepEd) Order45, series of 2009 which the CPTCSA advocated for and pre-dates the DepEd’s May 14, 2012 DO 40, s. 2012 Child Protection Policy.

DepEd Order 45, s2009 institutionalizes personal safety lessons in elementary and secondary schools nationwide to serve as guiding principles for children’s personal safety and protective behavior and enhance their social skills, self-esteem, and vital knowledge of their rights.

Rosales said the first lessons on personal safety for schoolchildren were piloted in 1996 but this mandate came over 10 years later. “We hope to see these mandated lessons delivered to and understood by students so that they will know the protection measures by heart,” she said. “These policies are of no use if schoolchildren and the adults who are expected to protect and care for them are not educated about the provisions.”

The Personal Safety Lessons indicate concepts such as “touching rules” that teach students that it is never right for someone to touch their private body parts except for health reasons; how to get away and how to get help.

There is also “positive assertiveness” that shows ways to communicate that you don’t want something, such as “please go away” or “I don’t want that” or “I will tell my father,” as it is important for children to know that they’re entitled to their own choice of words but it must be done in an effective way.

CPTCSA executive director Rosales enjoined everyone, individuals and institutions alike, to help Making Safe Schools Happen be the instrument for an improved implementation of child rights policies and laws.

“We are putting together Making Safe Schools Happen but with the help of anyone and everyone who wants to help us as we continue working with children, students and child protection communities.”

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