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My Lords, from all the powerful interventions that we have heard so far, we can see the Philippines is an incredibly difficult place to be a child, especially those growing up in poverty. One of the brave bishops in the Philippines, Bishop Pablo David, in opposing lowering the age of criminal responsibility, said: “For what? For being born in an environment of abuse? For being neglected or abused by abusive parents and being left to fend for themselves out in the streets?” That is exactly what they are being punished for. How appalling.
I saw street children in context for myself on a visit some time ago to Manila, certainly as poor a place as I have ever been in the world, with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. We had a terribly memorable visit to Smokey Mountain, a 40-acre rubbish dump in Manila that is full of families and children searching for food. If they are lucky they have a shelter made of plastic and scrap wood. That is a really difficult context in which to work as an NGO, and recently the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children—of which, like the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I am a co-chair, and I am so glad that she has joined—heard from Melanny Siban, the co-ordinator of the mobile unit of Bahay Tuluyan, a unit that works with Philippine street children. She explained that one of the main aims of its work is to teach children to identify types of abuse and learn to protect themselves, so that they become aware of their rights and responsibilities and can identify the related parties in charge and exactly who they can ask for some help.
Bahay Tuluyan feels that the Philippines authorities’ approach towards street children alternates between a welfare approach, which of course we should be encouraging, and a repressive one. The drive to remove children from the streets should be for the children’s protection, but at other times it is justified by labelling them as delinquents. The police have introduced standards for community-based services and committed to building protective and caring environments for children at risk. It is still a theory, though, and the practice apparently remains much the same, with alarmingly high rates of violence during the so-called rescue process, both when they are being removed from the streets and when they are detained in the government facilities, which are severely overcrowded.
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in thinking about calling for the country to be designated as a country of concern, but I also highlight my disappointment and anger that when Dr Liam Fox went to the Philippines in April 2017 he talked about hoping to do more trade based on our “shared values”. There is no value that I could share with the President as described today.
I hope that the brave people of the Philippines who are standing up, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Thomas, will continue to be able to express themselves. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on securing this important debate.