Since the age of 4, Ericka has put her community first. Hailing from Quezon City, Philippines, Ericka grew up in an informal settlement community – and as a result, witnessed the challenges faced by children around her. First as a participant in educational and recreational programming, and then as an active leader in those initiatives, Ericka became a member of the National Anti-Poverty Commission at the age of 12, committing herself to speaking about children’s rights, challenges and concerns at the national and international levels.
In April, Ericka spoke at an End Violence Partnership event dedicated to ending corporal punishment. Soon after, we spoke to her directly, learning more about her passion for social justice and her belief that children, no matter where they live, should have a place at the decision-making table.
The End Violence Partnership spoke to Ericka about her efforts as an advocate, and her drive to speak up and out for children across the Philippines.
When – and why – did you start getting involved with community work?
I grew up in an informal settlement community in Quezon City – so the land that my house was built on was not our property. Growing up there exposed me to a lot of challenges children were facing, but also a lot of social activities, as many organisations were involved in work throughout the settlement.
At the age of 4, I began participating in many of these programmes, mostly through the Vides Foundation, an international non-governmental organization that had educational initiatives in my neighborhood. From an early age, I began learning about my rights, and began engaging in both recreational and educational activities through the Foundation. As I got older, I began to realize how many children in my neighborhood didn’t have access to basic services or education, or understand their rights as children. That made me get even more involved, and I became a youth advocate before I was even a teenager. I really wanted to speak out for the children in my community, as so many of them don’t have a voice, not just in government settings, but even within the school or the home. I wanted to bring my voice, their voices – and the challenges both I and they were facing – to larger platforms.
My mission to speak out grew as I began taking my activism further. I went on to participate in my first national conference where I heard even more issues, concerns and challenges facing children throughout the Philippines. At the conference, I gained an even larger understanding of the realities children faced. I met children from different islands in the Philippines, and met so many other child and youth activists, and realized that when they spoke up, they could make a change – and there were platforms for us to participate. I wanted to make sure I fully utilized that platform to speak about the challenges of children in my community, and raise the voices of children who weren’t there themselves. That’s what really drives me to be involved with child rights and protection.
To me, that’s the key. If children know about their rights, they will have the knowledge to participate in larger dialogues and speak up about the issues facing them. And through that, they will also realize they aren’t just kids. They have the voice and power and can make a change.
What do you feel are the biggest child protection issues children face – in your community and across the globe?
In my community, I think the biggest issues children are facing are corporal punishment, online sexual exploitation, and sexual violence. I recently spoke at the corporal punishment event through the End Violence Partnership because it was the first issue I learned about as a child advocate; before I got involved with Vides, I didn’t realize corporal punishment was even a problem. But if you attend consultations with children, you’ll immediately realize it’s the most common challenge we face. At some of these events, children would break down and cry, and that’s when I realized the impact violent punishment can have. So many children in the Philippines are hoping for better, safer and more positive ways of parenting. But we still have a lot of work to do to get there.
I also bring up online sexual exploitation because this is a growing problem in the Philippines, especially as perpetrated by children’s mothers or fathers. During COVID-19, so many children were stuck at home, and parents were going through financial difficulties. Because of this, children were and continue to be more at-risk of online sexual exploitation and abuse. It’s really hard to control the internet, but luckily, in our country, there has been a recent, potential legal improvement: a law is being pushed through the government to help fix this situation by strengthening protection measures to keep children safe. Child advocates are watching this process closely and hoping it will make a difference.
I have also been actively participating in seminars and dialogues with government agencies who are concerned with this issue in the Philippines. We have brought recommendations from children directly to them, and have lobbied with the responsible persons in the government.
Lastly, sexual violence – specifically child rape. This has also been worse because of the lockdowns, especially within families and from relatives. I am working with child advocates to end this issue in the Philippines. We recently had a campaign that hoped to raise the age of statutory rape to 16, and through that campaign and the work of others, we have made great progress. The House of Representatives approved the bill in December 2020, but it has yet to be approved in the Senate. We are hoping to have it passed into law this year, in 2021.
We also want to improve the way we identify and prosecute sexual violence, because right now, children will enter a court and be forced to see their perpetrators face-to-face. That causes a lot of trauma.
What has your experience been speaking up about these issues on the national and international stage?
Even before attending the national conference, I was actively participating with Vides as a child advocate. Every November, for example, we celebrated Children’s Month, where Vides conducted leadership seminars and educational sessions to help us understand our rights. These activities went throughout the year, too. I started helping out with that, and my work with them eventually led me to become the organization’s representative at the national conference.
The national conference is conducted by the National Anti-Poverty Commission, a coalition of people from basic sectors here in the Philippines, including children, students and youth, farmers, fisherfolk, and others. We have what we call the National Sectoral Assembly, which is convened every three years – though this has been on hold because of the pandemic. Because of this, I have been a council member of the National Anti-Poverty Commission for almost five years. The aim of the conference is to select 25,000 members that would represent the basic sectors all over the Philippines. When I joined, together with 100 children from different organizations, we had identified three main issues we wanted to discuss, noting recommendations to those issues as well. Those three issues included corporal punishment, child labour, and early pregnancy.
Through that conference, we had consultations and discussions about these topics. After, I was elected as a council member out of 100 delegates from different organisations that tackle child rights issues – not through the regional election, but for the national one. After this election, I knew I needed to have an even bigger perspective. I could no longer just raise issues of children from my community. I needed to speak for children across the Philippines. I was 12 years old at the time and a grade seven student.
In this role, I help craft resolution papers that we can push to different government agencies. We also conduct inter-agency dialogues. During my time as a council member until now, every time we have a recommendation, we put it in a resolution paper, and pass it. For example, teenage pregnancy: we recommended developing child-friendly sexual reproductive health and rights materials, so we tapped the Department of Health and others to give funds and push this forward. Another example is our work to lower the age of criminal liability of children: we produced papers that included a manifesto of our views on the topic and published that to online news outlets so it would get more attention.
This election opened a lot of opportunities for me. I became part of Children Talk to Children, a Save the Children initiative, which is a coalition of child-led organizations all over the Philippines. Children Talk to Children aims to monitor the Convention on the Rights of the Child to hold the government accountable. Through this initiative, I was able to facilitate island-wide consultations across the country. We eventually created and launched the Filipino Children’s Report, which included recommendations and findings from our focus group discussions and interviews with children themselves. That was one of our biggest achievements.
Aside from that, I actively participated in Bata Muna Campaigns, which aim to make politicians put children’s issues first. We all know that during election periods, many politicians speak a lot of promises. And we used that opportunity to talk to them about including child rights concerns in their platforms. We lobbied candidates in the parliament and senate so they can include issues we have noted to their agendas. We do this so that when they are elected to the office they were running for, we can tap them and say: what happened to your promises for children?
Through these campaigns, we have focused on passing an anti-corporal punishment bill, promoting programmes to prevent teenage pregnancy, and child labour issues. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t: they said, for example, that they would support the passage of the anti-corporal punishment bill, but when the bill was finally passed in our senate and congress, it was vetoed by our president. That’s why now, we are looking for another way to pass it because it has been a controversial topic. Many people still think that not using violence is a form of submissive parenting and spoiling your child. Because of that, we are now thinking of other ways to educate parents – and let them know that discipline is not just about violence and hitting your kid.
We hope that we can develop a strategy that we could use to pass another bill, maybe, we can change the title of it and incorporate more activities to educate families, parents and politicians about this issue.
Apart from that, I have attended at least 30 conferences to represent the views of children from the Philippines, including when, in 2019, I had the opportunity to go to Geneva and speak about children and justice as a panelist during the 30th celebration of the Convention on the Rights of Child.
Why is it important for children to speak up about the challenges facing them?
I think that the participation of children is important because the children know best what they’re dealing with. Not adults. Even though the adults say, well, we have also experienced childhood too, our times are constantly changing. There are situations that adults have experienced that children do not experience now, and vice versa. Children need to be represented in every setting – small and large – because they know best what they are dealing with today.
For children and young people who are nervous about speaking out, I would say that I was also nervous, and sometimes I still am! But it’s worth it to conquer your fears and speak anyway. When you do, it will make a difference. You have to say: I’m not just here to represent myself. I’m here to represent all the children from my country who can’t.
Even though I am nervous sometimes, I keep reminding myself of my goal and my vision, and somehow, I overcome it. As more time goes by, it gets easier. And it’s always worth it.
Where do you see yourself going from here?
In the future, I will continue being an advocate. I’m not a child anymore, but I will continue using whatever I have in front of me to make change. Eventually, I would like to become a lawyer who can bring justice to children in court proceedings, and I’m working toward this goal by pursuing my university studies in political science.
A child-friendly Philippines and world would be a wonderful thing to see. I think that nothing is impossible if we join hands and set our differences aside. I also hope that in the future, violence will be eradicated, and children will have a safer world to speak out free from intimidation, threats, and violence.
I am very hopeful that there will be a time where we will really achieve what we’re working for now. Even before us, there were a lot of people that were hoping for a change, and that’s why our situation is much better than what they had.
of violence from this generation to the next.
ABOUT END VIOLENCE CHAMPIONS
As part of the Together to #ENDviolence global campaign, we are celebrating these individuals and the change they are helping to create. Through Q&A-style interviews, you will learn from practitioners, activists, researchers, policymakers and children about their successes, their challenges, and what they think is needed to end violence for good. Every month, we will feature someone working on this challenge from a different part of the world, shedding light on their impact and the efforts of their affiliated organisation, company or institution.
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