As the Philippines once again enters different community quarantine levels, various problems in several sectors are exacerbated and worsened. At this point, it would seem as if ECQ, MECQ, GCQ, and MGCQ are all just a bunch of letters that the government declared to impose lockdown measures. The country’s lackluster response and inefficient governance have massively set back one of the country’s most vulnerable age groups, the youth sector, who are supposed to be in the formative years of their education. Instead of seeing them in schools, they are confined in their homes, deprived of better learning experiences and stripped of quality education.
Since the pandemic started, a spike in out of school youth (OSY) was recorded; around four million students were not able to enroll and attend during the last academic year. But the possibility of returning to face to face classes amid the global health crisis is not an impossible one; other nations have managed to send children back to school. Last July 16, President Rodrigo Duterte even announced that schools will be opened on September 13. Although there are efforts to conduct pilot testing, it cannot be denied that it has been more than a year since the country has shifted to online classes.
The lack of face to face interaction also meant that more children are at risk of domestic dangers. The Department of Justice has recorded that online sexual abuse and exploitation of children increased by 264.6 percent from March to May last year alone.
The list of crimes against children goes on. A study found that women suffered a 42 percent increase in unintended pregnancies and a 67 percent jump in unmet family planning needs, with one out of 10 women being teenagers.. Globally, at least one out of six children experience violence at home. Because of high local unemployment, child labor is also prevalent during the pandemic, with children hav to endure dangerous jobs in mining and agriculture to ensure that they have enough money to make it through the day. It should also not be forgotten that children also experience mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
It is evident that the more we push back the opening of classes, there will be more consequences on the physical and mental health of the youth. More than ever, this situation is a wake up call to those in power—to have more laws to protect the rights and welfare of the youth and to strengthen efforts to try and return to face to face classes. Based on the recent decisions of the government, it can be seen that their actions are reactive rather than proactive. For example, failure to impose a travel ban on travelers from China last January 2020 caused a spike in COVID-19 cases in the country. If they were able to open up shopping malls and tourist destinations, schools and universities should be next.