THE Department of Education (DepEd) was alarmed by reports showing a growing number of violence against children in public schools in the country.

“It is alarming considering that this involved schoolchildren but we will look into this and coordinate with concerned agencies especially with the Council for the Welfare of Children,” said DepEd for Legal and Legislative Affairs Alberto Muyo.

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The report, presented to coincide with the 20th year of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, was conducted by aid agency Plan International, United Nations Children and Education Fund (Unicef), AusAid, Council for the Welfare of Children and the Philippine Women’s University.

Among the findings of the baseline study is that 65 percent of the sampling population complained of experiencing a form of violence such as being cursed, shouted at, humiliated or ridiculed for misdemeanors or perceived violation of school rules.

Muyot said what is alarming is the finding of the study that four out of 10 Grades 1 to 3 students and seven out of 10 of the higher grade levels students complained of verbal abuse from their teachers.

Three out of 10 males Grades 1 to 3 students and five out of 10 males in the higher grades said they are also victims of physical violence.

Sexual violence, the study showed, is experienced by both female and male schoolchildren with 36.53 percent of Grades 4 to 6 students and 42.88 percent of high school students.

Incidence of inappropriate touching applies the same for both male and female students (11 to 12 percent of lower grade levels students to 17 percent among secondary students.

The more serious form of sexual violence that is being forced to have sex occurred less frequently among the students at 2.36 percent, citing a case in Masbate province wherein two graduating high school students “agreed” to be molested by their teacher under threat of receiving a failing grade.

Still in Masbate, the study showed another female high school student who was being victimized by her male teacher.

“The teacher would give her money in exchange for kisses,” the report said.

Another finding of the study showed that more incidence of violence is experienced by urban school children than their counterpart in rural areas.

The study faulted the education department saying, “Most public schools do not follow a standard way of addressing complaints of violence against schoolchildren.”

“This makes the process vulnerable to personal biases, the arbitrary judgment on handling the complaint often results to children’s distrust of the process,” it added.

Michael Diamond, Plan Philippines country director, said the 15-month study was participated in by some 6,931 school children of which 50.64 percent (3,510) were elementary school children and 49.36 percent were from the secondary level.

Participants from the rural areas significantly outnumber their urban counterparts, 65.52 percent to 34.48 percent.

It was conducted in Mountain Province, Manila, Masbate, Northern Samar, Capiz, Cebu City, Camotes Island in Cebu, Sultan Kudarat and Davao city.

For Muyot, the findings indicated a need to revise the guidelines on protecting children from violence.

“Simula ng maipasa ang Anti-Child Abuse Law (RA 7610) ay nagpalabas na ang DepEd ng mga kautusan para masolusyunan ito pero kailangan siguro nating i-revise and i-update ito. Makikipagtulungan din tayo sa CWC at sa mga Parents Teacher Association para dito,” the official said.

But he said a proactive stance by the department also needs the cooperation of the community adding that in many cases, no formal complaints were filed against the offending party, whether it is against a teacher or a peer.

“Kakaunti lang talaga ang kasong nakakakarating sa DepEd yung mga formal complaints pero di naman ibig sabihin di ito inaaksiyunan,” he said, adding that administrative and even criminal charges can be filed against the teachers if they are found guilty of violating the provisions of the law and the Civil Service Code.

He said complainants can also forward their cases to the Office of Secretary Armin Luistro or at the local level, at the DepEd regional and division offices.

For her part, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman said there is a need to strengthen efforts to promote a child-friendly learning environment.

Soliman said they are coordinating with the education department to ensure that there is a guidance counselor in every elementary and secondary school in the country to prevent a recurrence of incidents against schoolchildren.

Unicef Country Representative Vaness Tobin said they support the DepEd’s campaign to strengthen mechanisms to curb violence against school children and the passage of the anti-corporal punishment bill into law.

“One of the many goals of a child-friendly school is to ensure that children are safe and healthy. As this report shows, many children do not feel that way. More than half of the children in the study had experienced some form of violence in school and we need to address this issue,” Tobin added. (AH/Sunnex)