Do more than kiss the babes

published March 2, 2013, MST page A5
National candidates have started making the rounds of the entire country, delivering speeches, promising the moon, shaking hands, and kissing babies.  Soon, local officials will start doing the same.
With the clamor for issue-based rather than personality-driven campaigning, candidates have beefed up their slogans by articulating their agenda. Thus, it is no longer strange for us to hear that A is for the empowerment of women, B is for the environment, C is a champion of universal health care, D of education, E of migrant workers. And so on.
Children’s issues are also a popular campaign advocacy. There are many of these to choose from—abuse and exploitation, basic education, nutrition, disaster vulnerability, access to clean water and sanitary toilets, conflict with the law, trafficking, labor, and bullying.
And besides, who does not love children?  Being close to them and breathing the air they breathe make one feel young, too.
Most of all, it’s a good photo opportunity.
But how much of the advocacy is branding and gimmickry? How much is genuine desire and will to make a difference?
A network of 18 (as of last count, and the number is growing) non-government organizations will launch a campaign next week called Bata Muna: Bumoto Para Sa Kapakanan ng mga Bata.  The campaign exhorts voters to support only national or local candidates who meaningfully and substantially include children’s issues in their programs of governance.
The idea is to adopt a critical view of candidates’ promises.  Not everybody who kisses babies really cares about 0-17-year-old Filipinos who make up 39.6 percent of the population, according to 2010 data from the National Statistics Office.
According to Unicef lawyer Mary Grace Agcaoili, it is not that the Philippines does not have laws protecting children. Many laws are already in place – the problem is that children and their families, who must be the first to know about their rights, are not even aware of them. How then will they be able to use these laws to protect themselves?
Unfortunately, the amount allotted to local government units for the dissemination of information about existing laws is not being used at all, or being used for other purposes, she adds.
Look at the Convention on the Rights of Child, Agcaoili points out.  It has been in force since 1990, and yet only very few Filipinos, much less children, are aware of the rights accorded them.
As she discussed the many gaps in implementing child-friendly laws, Agcaoili emphasized that if one wants to be perceived as thinking long-term, one would take up children’s issues.  The repercussions would be observed on the kids who would eventually grow into adults. Development and sustainability are thus built into these issues.  The solutions contemplated must not only be good for the present.
According to Deborah Carmina Sarmiento of Save the Children, it is difficult to hold politicians accountable to the promises they uttered while campaigning after they have already won. These are those whose identification with certain issues is superficial.  The key is to know how to separate them from those who have the track record, the inclination and the sincerity to be true to their word.
Activities lined up by the NGOs beginning March 7, the campaign’s official launch, are designed to enable voters to separate the posers from the genuine kids’ champs.
Children can’t vote, are not aware of their rights, cannot speak for themselves, lack access to information, and are often ignored and dismissed just because they are young.
The campaign literature says it best: “So it is up to us who are old enough to vote for people who will do whatever it takes to promote, protect and fulfill children’s rights no matter what, put children at the center of governance, and make children a priority.”
Indeed, adults owe children a better life.
For more information about the campaign, Bata Muna is on Facebook—