By Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz
Filipino children have seen far worse childhood than their counterparts in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
A global report by child rights advocate Save the Children brought forth this disturbing news.
Severe malnutrition, lack of basic health care, and early pregnancy have been “robbing” Filipino children of their “happy” childhood, according to Save the Children country director Ned Olney.
This was cited in the report titled “Stolen Childhoods,” which was launched last Thursday, June 1, coinciding with the celebration of the International Children’s Day.
Olney explained that an index of events that impact children’s ability to have a safe and happy childhood was used to rank 172 countries “from best to worst places to grow up.”
The Philippines ranked 96th, which was worse than Vietnam (92nd), Thailand (84th), Malaysia (65th), and Singapore (33rd).
He cited that the eight indicators that “end” children’s childhood are child mortality under five years old, growth stunting, out-of-school children, child labor, early marriage, adolescent pregnancy, displacement by conflict, and child homicide.
“The Philippines’ ranking is a concern because when you look at some of the other countries that are ranked ahead of the Philippines, these are countries that are (used to be) a lot poorer. It is left behind by ASEAN countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. Thirty years ago these countries were far poorer than the Philippines but their rank improved in terms of childhood. They have improved much faster than the Philippines,” Olney pointed out.
“I was very surprised to see the Philippines behind Tajikistan, Bhutan, Turkmenistan and Moldova. These countries have very difficult environment for children and yet Philippines ranked below these countries,” he added.
The greatest concern for the Philippines is in three indices, which include the under-five mortality rate. “This is quite high for a middle income country,” he said.
He noted that child mortality is “very high” with more than 50 percent of newborn mortality happening in the first 28 days. “This is what is keeping the Philippines behind,” he added.
According to Olney, the most significant driver of the country’s “poor” ranking is the high levels of growth stunting and undernutrition, affecting about 30 percent of Filipino children across the country.
Based on its 2015 data, the rate of malnutrition went up by about 10 percent, bringing the latest data to 33 percent. “That is the largest increase in childhood stunting in the last quarter century. Something is going wrong,” he said.
About 50 percent or one out of two children is stunted in the Philippines, he pointed out. “That is worse than the average in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is 30 percent,” he added.
“Disappointing statistics from the Philippines underscore the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, when they are most susceptible to stunting and most in need of good nutrition. This is an area that must be dramatically improved if the Philippines is to move up the rankings , and most importantly, (to) ensure every child across the country can benefit from a safe and happy childhood,” Olney said.
Children who are stunted in the first two years are also more likely to repeat grades, drop out of school and delay school entry.
“Severe malnutrition is increasing,” Olney said adding that cases of malnutrition are more prevalent in urban Metro Manila, which is ironic because there is available food almost everywhere “and yet children are dying everyday” due to malnutrition.
Save the Children’s “Cost of Hunger: Philippines” study in 2016 put the cost of undernutrition or stunting to the Philippine economy at P320 billion annually–equivalent to almost 3 percent of the country’s GDP.
The second largest driver of the poor ranking is adolescent pregnancy. “What is the direction of the Philippines as regards adolescent birth rate? Ten years ago, the rate was lower. More adolescent girls are giving birth than 10 years ago,” he said.
Likewise, about 11 percent of Filipinos’ five to 14 years old are already working and almost 10 percent of adolescents aged 15 to 19 are married.
These indicators have put the Philippines in a poor standing.
“It all comes down to poverty. The drivers go really high when you are poor and goes really low when you are wealthy,” he said.
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