It is no secret that in times of disasters and calamities, children are the most vulnerable.
They cannot help themselves during difficult times, and so the trauma doubles or triples for this vulnerable sector.
The children of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, the provinces in northern Mindanao in the southern Philippines, which are the areas hardest hit by tropical storm Sendong, are no exception.
But another disaster looms for them and other members of the community who are already vulnerable, according to a report released last month by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
According to the UN, 87,500 children are at risk of child abuse, which becomes rampant in disaster-stricken areas and in evacuation centres.
‘There is a lack of protection mechanisms for vulnerable sub-groups, such as pregnant and lactating women, female heads of households, single women, people with disabilities and the elderly. There are also no community-based child protection networks in evacuation centres,’ the UN said.
The report noted that some children have been separated from their parents or are unaccompanied.
‘Around 87,500 children require registration and camp co-ordination to protect them from abuse, exploitation and trafficking in evacuation centres. Aside from school buildings, some child development centres remain totally damaged or destroyed,’ the report stated.
In the same report, UNICEF said that it is mobilizing the Child Protection Working Group (CPWG) partners to conduct assessments of the evacuation centres.
UNICEF and other international groups are working with the government of Iligan to protect children from any ‘exploitation, abuse and trafficking’.
As a strong advocate for child rights, I fervently hope that the state will direct its resources to where they need to be. Government institutions such as the Departments of Health and Social Welfare and Development should take the lead in ensuring psycho-social protection for women and children.
Tropical storm Sendong struck last year, on the cold Friday night of 16 December.
More than a month later, survivors have yet to pick up the pieces of their lives. They need all the help they can get.
As I write this, many of the victims are still in evacuation centres, in borrowed homes, in temporary shelters. Most of those whose homes have been washed away are still struggling to rebuild their lives.
Photo of children in an evacuation centre by Iris Gonzales.