By Cheng Ordonez, Editor-in-Chief

Photo courtesy of DFA

DUBAI — The Philippine government has taken cognizance of the brewing concern over children who are born out of wedlock in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where a recent news report revealed how an unmarried woman has raised and nurtured her son in hiding in Dubai for six years without access to healthcare and education.

The Philippines is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), which stipulates that every child “has the right from birth to a name and the right to acquire a nationality.”

It has reportedly received thousands of cases of unregistered Filipino children overseas from 2017 to 2018, who are often labeled “stateless” because they were conceived by undocumented Filipino parents and are born out of wedlock in countries where sex outside marriage is outlawed.

Data from the Philippines’ Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) show that from January 2017 to November 2018, the Philippine government assisted a total of 8,197 unregistered children, including those born by sexually-abused women, trafficked Filipinos, and parents seeking asylum, the Philippine government news agency, PNA, reported.

“Such figures translate to the daunting task faced by Philippine government agencies in ensuring those birthed by Filipino parents grow with their rights protected,” the report stated.

Nevertheless, government efforts to address these are continuous, an official from the DSWD told the PNA.

Philippine Social Welfare and Development Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Glenda Relova said the children involved are accorded with necessary assistance from their stay at the embassy shelters until they are repatriated to the Philippines.

“When it comes to children, countries are, at least, aware of the UN CHR so we could invoke it for repatriation of the minor. When the papers are ready for processing, that’s where we intervene more,” she said.

If the parent is detained, the possible next of kin who would take the responsibility over the child is identified and assessed by the DSWD.

Under the so-called “one-country team approach,” the DSWD, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Department of Labor and Employment coordinate to provide legal assistance and welfare services to Filipinos that encounter a similar ordeal, she added.

The DSWD also assist in the repatriation where it has social welfare attaches, particularly in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jeddah, Riyadh and Qatar.

Responses vary from the classifications of unregistered Filipino children abroad, especially with different laws in each state. In some Middle East countries, sex and birth outside marriage are punishable by law.

Host countries whose Islamic laws are rigorously imposed do not give legal recognition to illegitimate children and provide them little or no social welfare protection.

However, a Dubai government official told Kabayan Weekly in a meeting that media should mediate and bring the concerns of the Filipino women in this kind of situation to the Dubai government authorities itself.

“Why not come to us? We consider and handle cases with humanitarian conditions. We care for the children. Imagine a boy deprived of his future without education and without healthcare services,” the Dubai government official said, referring to the incident reported by The Guardian recently.

The Dubai government official said they don’t intend to put the blame on the unmarried women when they go seek for assistance but to make the fathers answerable to providing for their offspring should they be located in this country.

The Dubai government official also said the media should initiate awareness campaign so that other people will take lessons from them.

“We feel sorry for them. But the others must be clever, take lessons from others’ mistakes,” the Dubai government official added.

Meanwhile, Philippine Consul General for Dubai and Northern Emirates Paul Raymund Cortes shared that the Consulate has successfully undertaken the eventual repatriation of many unmarried Filipino women and their children in accordance with UAE laws, regulations, and procedures.

Philippine Consul General Paul Raymund Cortes

Through its assistance-to-nationals fund, the DFA shoulders the repatriation expenses of undocumented children.

The DSWD has no exact figure on the number of children born by Filipino parents out of marriage in the Middle East. Relova said response often comes in when the case is reported directly at the embassy or when the individuals are already caught by local authorities.

“Hindi naman lahat nare-record (Not all are recorded),” she said. “(There are some who) fear that they will be detained and at some point, others would hide due to disgrace on their part.”

“Often, with reports from concerned nationals, our social welfare attaches abroad personally visit the hiding places and once discovered they are brought to temporary shelter and provided with different services applicable to their needs,” she added.

The DFA is also reluctant to release data on nationals with children staying in the embassy shelters, especially those born of unmarried and detained parents, due to certain sensitivities in their host countries.

But Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola assured all legal representations are extended.

She also believes these so-called “love cases” exceeds no more than one percent of the Filipinos in the region.

“It’s not too many, definitely it’s not even one percent. I don’t think it’s even 0.05. It is highlighted because there are children involved. It happens but not that too many,” she told the PNA.

In some countries, these nationals are allowed to stay in the embassy shelters together with their babies, but the remainder puts them into the custody of local authorities.

“You cannot impose on those government to change their laws because it’s their sovereignty but we make representations and intervention for the release of the children,” she said.

“Most governments are cooperative but the thing is, it’s part of their laws, it’s part of Islam. This is something that has to be included in all pre-departure orientations to emphasize,” Arriola added. (With a report from PNA)