Paging All Voters: Support Bata Na Muna Drive

CHILDREN under 18 years of age are technically unqualified to vote in this coming May 13 mid-term elections, but they are calling on all the wannabe national and local poltical candidates to consider them as their priority beneficiary-constituents if ever they will be given the mandate to serve the populace.

This was the central message of the “Bata Na Muna Campaign” launched during a press conference held last April 30 at the ZABIDA Peace and Development Resource Center in Suterville, this city.

Bata Na Muna Campaign is dubbed as a “Campaign for Children’s Electoral Agenda on Governance”.

Some children from Tanglaw Buhay Center, Akay Kalinga Center and the community of the Katilingban participated in the press conference and they too presented their own wish lists that they want the candidates who are seeking public office to address once elected.

Tanglaw Buhay Center and Akay Kalinga Center are two shelters catering for the children and teens in the city, while the Katilingban community is a housing project of the pro-poor non-government organization Katilingban para sa Kalambuan Inc. (KKI).

“I have joined the Bata Na Muna campaign because I want the politicians hear our voices and to pay attention to our rights,” Abdul Ghaffar Lintasan, 13, said in the press conference. Abdul is an incoming second year high school student in a public school in the city.

Joining him in the presscon were two other youths, Johnny Rey and Bernadette.

The May elections provide an opportunity for child-focused civil society organizations (CSOs) like the Tanglaw Buhay Center, Akay Kalinga Center and the KKI to come together and bring children’s rights to the arena of politics and governance. The Bata Na Muna Campaign revolves on a common electoral agenda for governance which was formulated by children/child-led groups in Manila and Mindanao in 2013.

The initiative aspires to strengthen citizenship and shift voting behavior by shaping a more informed, more responsible and more critical voting public. And, to build the foundation for a stronger and broader civil society and children’s movement for children’s rights in the Philippines. The campaign mobilizes the participation of children’s organizations and civil society

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), children have rights to education, health care and protection. However, these rights are not translated into reality as children suffer the worst from poverty, hunger, disasters and conflicts. They are also the most affected by weak policies, programs and resources. Furthermore, because they are children, they cannot vote nor have a say in the decision making of government processes.

Duty bearers have the responsibility to put children in their best interest as the primary consideration. Government needs to be accountable in all decisions at all levels of government through laws, policies, systems and mechanisms, programs and services as well as budget allocations to put children in the center of governance. Citizens need to promote and protect children’s rights.

Johnny Rey said that Bata Na Muna Campaign is an “idea by the children throughout the country to let the candidates provide for the welfare of children like us.”

“One of the problems we want to bring to the attention of the candidates is that of street children. They are not being protected from calamities and from other ill-intentioned people. We want the candidates to feel that,” Abdul stressed.

“We are calling on the candidates to seriously consider the growing incidents of child trafficking. I hope the abuses being done to street children should be put to end,” Bernadette said.

In addition, Johnny Rey continued saying “malnutrition is also rampant among children, it is a daily need for a child to eat nutritious foods and that is the responsibility of the government.”

Meanwhile, Marcelina Carpizo, Program Coordinator of the two shelters, challenged voters to vote for candidates who have an agenda for the welfare of the children.

“Candidates should have hearts and deeds and not only words for the good of our less fortunate children,” she said.

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