Time to give child protection a boost
In the first half of this year, there were numerous reports of violence against children. Many of these cases share a similar pattern -- those responsible for the violence are people close to the child. According to statistics from the 1300 hotline, from October 2018 to September 2019, reports of violence against children and youngsters averaged five cases per day, with three daily cases daily listed as domestic violence. The most common form of domestic violence that children experience is physical violence committed by their own fathers or mothers.
It should be noted that the above numbers are only cases reported to the 1300 hotline. Some cases may be reported to other government agencies or NGOs that also work to protect children. It is also believed that there are many unreported incidences in which children have faced maltreatment. Hence, the total number of cases involving violence against children in Thailand is higher than the average of five per day. What is worrisome is that many children are facing violence in their homes, which should be the safest place for them. This suggests that the current child protection system is not reaching households, the smallest unit of society.
The outbreak of Covid-19 which resulted in the nationwide lockdown policy may have worsened the situation. According to the 1300 hotline, in March and April 2020, the number of reported domestic violence cases stood at 154 and 137 cases respectively, a drop from the same period last year (155 and 176 cases respectively in 2019). One explanation might be calls about support for social issues related to Covid-19 flooding the hotline.
In May and June 2020, the number of reported cases increased to 169 and 182 cases respectively, an approximate 11% increase from the previous year. This may be because many schools, which usually started the new term in May in the pre-Covid era, did not open until July.
According to the Thailand Domestic Violence Information Center, the number of cases involving violence against children has increased by an average of 17% per year over the past 10 years. The number 17 happens to be the number of years that the current Child Protection Act, BE 2546 (2003) has been enforced. This suggests that the law may not be able to respond to the current risks surrounding the children, such as internet abuse.
Studies on the efficiency of the child protection mechanism by Thittayaporn Deekaew (2016) and Coram International (2017) show that staff in the child protection system lack the skills and tools necessary for their operation, such as regional children situation databases. This suggests a need to improve the national child protection system.
Even though the Child Protection Act specifically mentions the characteristics of children who need protection, such as those who are in difficult situations or pose a risk of wrongdoing, the statistics about these groups of children are stored and handled by different government departments. For example, young offender statistics are managed by the Department of Juvenile Observation and Protection, student dropout statistics are held by the Ministry of Education and teen pregnancy statistics are held by the Department of Health. Consolidating these databases would facilitate the planning of risk prevention.
A report commissioned by Unicef in 2015 revealed that in East Asia and the Pacific region, child maltreatment such as physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse and witnessing actual violence resulted in an economic burden of US$209 billion (about 6.5 trillion baht) per year, or 2% of the region's GDP. If we still regard children as the future of our nation, the investing in the improvement of the child protection system is equivalent to safeguarding our country's's future.
Currently, there are attempts to revise the Child Protection Act. Among other changes, the draft Child Protection Bill will bring in local administrative organisations to provide child protection services in their areas. The inclusion of local officers who are more familiar with households is expected to increase the convenience and speed of operations and perhaps encourage more reporting. Better understanding of local contexts and situations would also lead to improved surveillance activities in order to promote awareness about child wellbeing among local citizens.
Boonwara Sumano, PhD, is a research fellow and Natinee Na Chiangmai is a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.