October 16, 2012
How to protect a child from her parents
Dear Atty. Allen,
I'd like to know the options available for a five-year-old girl who is physically and verbally abused by her own parents, almost every day. The child used to live with her aunt—her father's sister—but she was never legally adopted. Because the father is unemployed and the mother has a meager income, the couple often asked for financial support from the aunt, who is a childless widow, unemployed and currently living off her in-laws. They constantly use the child to blackmail the aunt, threatening her that they will take back their daughter if she doesn't give them money.
One day, the aunt just snapped and let the couple take away their daughter who has been with her for more than four years. Now, the aunt is haunted by guilt because she knows that the couple is very abusive and both of them hurt all three of their children on a daily basis. They are very poor, and they live in the province. The worst news that has gotten to the aunt was that the couple doesn't feed the five-year-old girl. They leave her to find food for herself, but they feed the other two children.
I find it outrageous, disturbing and alarming all at the same time. I want to know what the child and her two siblings can do, since the parents are clearly unfit to take care of them. Are there any legal provisions for children? What are their options?
Thank you so much.
Atty. Allen replies:
The rights of a minor child are set forth in The Child and Youth Welfare Code (Presidential Decree No. 603). Specifically, Article 3 (2) states that "Every child has the right to a wholesome family life that will provide him with love, care and understanding, guidance and counseling, and moral and material security." In cases where the child is deprived of this, the law ensures that he is provided with the "nearest substitute for a home."
The Family Code confers on parents the privilege of exercising parental authority over their child. However, in the same law, and in many other laws for that matter, the consistent principle is to put the best interest of the child ahead of everything else. For example, if the parents' exercise of parental authority is proving to be detrimental to the child's welfare, the courts will not hesitate to strip them off of their authority and appoint a more suitable guardian for the child.
There are so many legal provisions that seek to protect the welfare of the child. As I mentioned, the Family Code lays down the basis for demanding that parents perform the obligations that come with their exercise of parental authority. In addition to PD No. 603, there is also Republic Act No. 7610 (Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act). In some cases, Republic Act No. 9262 (Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act) applies. Add to these the rules laid down by the Supreme Court for the appointment of guardians, adoption of minors and seeking for custody.
In short, there is no shortage of laws that protect children in this jurisdiction. I guess the reason why many children suffer from neglect, abuse and abandonment is the lack of information on where to go and how people like you can help them get the protection that they are entitled to.
Having said this, there are also several options available to the child, to the aunt, and to concerned citizens like you. The way the parents are treating the child is a clear violation of Republic Act No. 7610. Article VI, Section 10(a) of the law provides that: "any person who shall commit any other acts of child abuse, cruelty or exploitation or to be responsible for other conditions prejudicial to the child's development including those covered by Article 59 of Presidential Decree No. 603, as amended, but not covered by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its minimum period."
A complaint for violation of Republic Act No. 7610 may be filed by the child herself, or any ascendant or collateral relative within the third degree of consanguinity, a social worker, the barangay chairman, or at least three concerned responsible citizens of the place where the violation occurred. Under Republic Act No. 7610, the child's aunt can file the complaint herself or seek the help of the barangay chairman or the local Department of Social Welfare and Development.
In cases where you don't want criminal prosecution, the aunt may also petition the court for custody of the minor on the ground that she can provide the most suitable environment for the holistic development and growth of the minor and that health, safety and welfare of the minor is in danger. This petition shall be covered by A.M. No. 03-04-04-SC 2003-04-22 or the Rule on Custody of Minors and Writ of Habeas Corpus in Relation to Custody of Minors. Under this Rule, she can also seek for a protection order from the court to compel the parents to refrain from acts of commission or omission that create an unreasonable risk to the health, safety, or welfare of the minor. More importantly, the aunt can also ask for a provisional order awarding custody to her while the petition is being heard.
In any case, you can always go to the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the agency which is mandated by law to promote the welfare of children. They should be able to help you navigate through your options or initiate the possible actions.
If you have questions for Atty. Allen, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atty. Allen A. Liberato is head of Corporate Legal Affairs at strategic marketing communications firm TeamAsia. She earned her Bachelor's Degree from the University of the Philippines Diliman and her law education from the University of Perpetual Help under Dean Justice Isagani A. Cruz.