PH is first country to approve bill for children affected by disasters

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On November 8, 2013, the Philippines faced what would prove to be the greatest storm to ravage the country, affecting more than 14 million people and leaving more than 8,000 either dead or missing. As the hardest-hit areas continue to struggle on the road to recovery, progress comes with the passing of the Children's Emergency Relief and Protection Act--a breakthrough bill that seeks to protect children affected by disasters.

On November 8, 2013, the Philippines faced what would prove to be the greatest storm to ravage the country, affecting more than 14 million people and leaving more than 8,000 either dead or missing.

Two years after super typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), the hard-hit areas are just beginning to get back on their feet.

Read: 200 families receive typhoon-resilient homes 2 years after Supertyphoon Yolanda

Following the havoc wreaked by Yolanda, the surfacing catastrophe left in its wake reveals major flaws in local disaster response and preparedness.

One of the most recent strides the country has made to address these gaping holes is the passage of the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act.

“The landmark legislation– which is first of its kind in Asia—will create a national program that will provide enhanced protection and relief assistance to millions of Filipino children affected by calamities,” reads a press release by the Save the Children Foundation.

The bill was approved by Congress on February 1.

According to Ned Olney, Save the Children Country Director, the approval of the bill will reduce child mortality and aid in the recovery of families and communities affected by disasters.

“Thousands of children died during Typhoon Yolanda; while those who survived have experienced psychosocial trauma and difficulties in evacuation centers, and are even exploited and abused due to lack of social protection. These traumas and sufferings can be avoided or mitigated by establishing clear policies and principles to protect the children in times of calamity and disaster," Tarlac Rep. Susan Yap, children's rights advocate and principal author of the bill, said.

ON THE NEXT PAGE: Meet the children of Yolanda.

April Sumaylo, Media Manager of Save the Children, was one of the first volunteers to respond in Tacloban City. In a report, Rewriting ‘Haiyan’ Two Years Later, she narrates the story of 11 year old Rafael.

Rafael lost his father when he was crushed by a collapsed wall. He told Sumaylo how he could taste the blood of his father while trying to pull him out of the rubble. Two days after the storm, Rafael built a makeshift house to shelter his mother and seven siblings.

Also in Tacloban, “Carla” (not her real name), a 16-year-old girl, was sexually abused repeatedly by her policeman uncle with whom her mother left her.

Read: More than 60 rape cases since typhoon Yolanda reported in Tacloban

“There has been a spike in rape, trafficking, and unwanted pregnancies in Tacloban since Yolanda,” said lawyer Clarita Padilla, Executive Director of Engenderights, adding that the increase can be explained by the lack of proper housing. A total of 80,000 houses were obliterated by Yolanda.

Rafael and Carla are just two of the faces of the more than 5.4 million children affected by Yolanda. Many are homeless, while thousands more have been orphaned.

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"Through the years, we have taken measures to increase preparedness and enhance responsiveness to these situations. However, children remain to be one of the most vulnerable sectors during such disasters. We must take steps in order to protect them and ensure that their fundamental rights are upheld, and this proposed bill is a significant stride towards that goal," said Senator Pia Cayetano, who heads the Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations and Gender Equality, in her sponsorship Speech in the Senate.

The bill, once enacted into law, will institutionalize a comprehensive emergency program led by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to protect children, heighten PNP and DSWD surveillance to prevent and detect child labor and child trafficking, increase child participation in disaster risk reduction planning and post-disaster needs assessment, limit the use of schools as evacuation centers, monitor temporary learning spaces, and disaggregate data collection that identifies specific information about children.

For more details, see this report from Save the Children.

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