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The UNICEF Philippines is one of over 190 national offices of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). One of the first UNICEF offices established in Asia, it works to uphold the rights of children in the Philippines, including their right to an education, healthcare and protection from abuse and exploitation. It also advocates for political change in support of children, and works with partner organizations from the public, charity and private sectors, to effect change.
UNICEF International was created in 1946 to provide food, clothing and health care to children in Europe after the Second World War. In 1953, the UN General Assembly extended UNICEF’s mandate indefinitely and in 1989 it adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has since become the most widely adopted human rights treaty in history. The CRC now underpins UNICEF’s work around the world, including in the Philippines, and defines children’s rights to protection, education, health care, shelter and good nutrition.
UNICEF Philippines’ specific objectives are: to strengthen local and national governments’ capacity to protect child rights and manage basic services; to increase the ability of civil society to support families in raising, nurturing and protecting children; to reduce under-five and maternal mortality and malnutrition; to improve the quality of education and increase the percentage of children completing school; and to reduce the number of children who are sexually abused, engaged in hazardous labour, exposed to substance abuse, or are in conflict with the law.
High profile supporters
In 2008, Gary Valenciano – also known as ‘Gary V’ – celebrated his tenth year as a UNICEF Ambassador with a visit to Sitio Avocado, a former war zone in Negros Oriental. His visit aimed to draw attention to the power of community action and to show how education can be a catalyst for change in times of conflict.
TV personality Bianca Gonzalez was appointed as a UNICEF Philippines’ Child Rights Supporter on 11 February 2010. She has supported UNICEF in a personal capacity since 2007, including fundraising for education activities. In December 2007, she raised PHP 36,000 through her blog website for UNICEF’s 100-book library program.
In 2004, UNICEF launched SparkHope in partnership with Starbucks. This is a community-based programme that allows each Starbucks store in the Philippines to provide early childhood care and development for children under 6-years-old in a specific community. A SparkHope corner can be found in every Starbucks store, which contains a donation box and shows photos of the adopted community and information about UNICEF’s programme.
UNICEF Philippines works to achieve quality education for all children in the country, particularly those from marginalized communities. It helps to ensure that children are ready for school by supporting early childhood care and development centres, including home and centre-based day care for 3 to 5-year-olds. UNICEF provides packages for day care centres, including play and learning materials, health and nutrition supplies and hygiene kits. In association with the Department of Education (Philippines), UNICEF has established a network of Child-Friendly primary schools and is now piloting the programme in high schools. This includes training for teachers and principals on child-friendly teaching methods.
UNICEF is also supporting policy makers in developing national standards to improve the quality of early learning programmes. The organization helped develop the Student Tracking System to monitor children’s progress, especially those at risk of dropping out. It is supporting the Department of Education in improving education in disadvantaged areas, including through the Modified In-School/Off-School Approach (MISOSA), which tackles the problem of large class sizes and congestion in schools.
Health and nutrition
On health, UNICEF works to promote a culture of breastfeeding in the Philippines. The organization has established public breastfeeding rooms and breastfeeding community support groups throughout the country. It supports the Department of Health (Philippines) in enforcing the Philippine Milk Code, which bans the advertising of breast milk substitutes, and trains health care workers on appropriate infant and young child feeding.
UNICEF also helps address preventable diseases and malnutrition among young children. The organization provides vaccines, cold chain equipment and syringes for the Expanded Programme on Immunization. It supports Child Health Days, a yearly campaign to deliver immunization, de-worming and vitamin A supplements to children in impoverished areas.
UNICEF trains health workers to respond to complications during pregnancy and childbirth and supports the Regional Emergency Obstetric Care Strategic Plan for Southern Mindanao, where maternal mortality rates are particularly high.
In elementary schools, UNICEF assists in constructing water and sanitation facilities, providing better access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for an additional 20,000 to 30,000 school children every year.
UNICEF Philippines works to provide a safe and protective environment for vulnerable children, including victims of abuse, exploitation and violence, by educating families and protecting children through rescue and recovery services.
UNICEF develops and strengthens child protection networks at the community, local and national levels. The organization also supports the establishment of Child Protection Units and specialised courts to help the victims of child exploitation and abuse.
In the Philippines, UNICEF has lobbied successfully for the passage of several major laws to protect children’s rights, including the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act and the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, which penalizes anyone who produces, distributes or assists in the promotion or transmission of child pornography, including through online media.
Other UNICEF services for vulnerable children include access to education, life skills training, vocational training, HIV and AIDS prevention, health services and psychosocial interventions. The organization also helps train professionals working with children in child protection.
Because of its permanent presence on the ground, UNICEF Philippines is able to respond rapidly when a natural disaster or humanitarian emergency occurs. The first aid usually arrives within 48 hours and emergency specialists assess the immediate needs of women and children. In the longer term, UNICEF works to improve conditions for children and promote their rehabilitation.
For instance, after Tropical Storm Ondoy hit Metro Manila in September 2009, UNICEF Philippines had packed and delivered 1,000 family kits within 24 hours. These contained the essential survival items for a family in the first few days, including blankets, sleeping mats, tarpaulin, cooking utensils and water containers. UNICEF also provided essential medicines, play and education equipment for schools and informal classes and water and sanitation for people in evacuation centres.
In the late 1990s, UNICEF helped establish a child-friendly cities programme in the Philippines. The initiative aims to promote children’s rights at every level, including the family, community, city and regional level. Since 1998, the government has been giving ‘Presidential Awards’ for child-friendly cities and municipalities.
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