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The war on drugs in the Philippines and its impact on children - By Johanna Wassong

The war on drugs in the Philippines and its impact on children - By Johanna Wassong

When President Duterte assumed the office of President of the Philippines in June 2016, he proclaimed an anti-drug policy, often coined as “The Philippine drug war”. This policy is aimed at “the neutralization of illegal drug personalities nationwide.” Not only has this caused multiple violations of human rights and widespread policy brutality, but this has also had a severe impact on the lives and rights of children.

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(Photo Source: Voice of America)

The war on drugs in the Philippines and its impact on children - By Johanna Wassong

When President Duterte assumed the office of President of the Philippines in June 2016, he proclaimed an antidrug policy, often coined as “The Philippine drug war”. This policy is aimed at “the neutralization of illegal drug personalities nationwide.”[1] Not only has this caused multiple violations of human rights and widespread policy brutality, but this has also had a severe impact on the lives and rights of children.[2] A report published on June 2020 by the World Agency against Torture and the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center in the Philippines, documented 122 extra judicial killings of children from July 2016 to December 2019.[3]The numbers are probably in fact even higher as witnesses are scared to testify.  This blogpost will focus on the report and the atrocities committed in the Philippines, before giving my own opinion on the matter. 

The report identifies 4 clear patterns of killings, which suggest the killings are part of police operations. Children are either killed as direct targets, as proxies when the real targets could not be found, as a result of mistaken identities or as collateral damage from spray bullets. Not only are the killings part of a larger discrimination against children, in regard to drug related issues,  including lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12 or even 9 years old. One case study that the report explains is particularly insightful and alarming. The case describes the arrest of a son, who was taken into the police station for questioning about alleged involvement in theft and drug use, who was then tortured and shot 15 minutes later. UNICEF has already submitted statements expressing deep concerns on these violations, including one on the 22nd of August in 2017 after the death of 17 year old Kian Delos Santos during a drug raid in Caloocan City. [4]

The violations of children’s rights taking place in the Philippines was, before the introduction of this report, a widely underreported issue. Children, especially orphans and children living in poverty, often do not have adequate representation to fight against the injustices the administration is executing against them. Children are invisible and this fact is becoming fatal in the Philippines as they are being used as the scapegoats in order to attempt to get the upper hand in the war on drugs.

[1] Tubeza, Philip.  28th February 2017. „Bato: Neutralization means arrest.“ Philippine Daily Inquirer.

[2]  The Guardian. 1st July 2016. “Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte urged people to kill drug addicts.”.

[3] World Agency against Torture and Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center. 2020. “How could they do this to my child.” https://www.omct.org/files/2020/06/25937/omct_philippines_childrights_06.2020_en_single.pdf

[4] UNICEF press statement by Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF Representative, Philippines. 2017.“UNICEF statement on the impact of the drug war on children’s rights in the Philippines“  https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/unicef-statement-impact-drug-war-childrens-rights-philippines

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