Taking the High Road

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IN what came in as a surprise, the Social Weather Station (SWS) survey released on Wednesday this week, showed that 51 percent of the 1,500 adult respondents agreed that drug tests be made mandatory for Grade 4 students and older pupils.

Grade 4 students are usually 10 years old.  “Much too young,” if the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief would assess, to be included in the mandatory drug test.

The proposal was most welcomed in the Visayas where 69 percent of the respondents agreed, followed by Metro Manila (53 percent) and in Mindanao with 52 percent.  One would not be privy as to the instrument and the profile of those who were included in the study but if by the result of the survey would show, this means that most of the respondents believe that mandatory tests could be done on children.

By what basis or data available, no one knows.  One could only surmise that these 1,500 adults respondents could have just been asked on whether they agree or not on the mandatory drug test.

Simple.

There was no need for them to be aware of the possible repercussion of the mandatory drug test on children.   As it was a survey, it was not within the ambit of the SWS to introduce the framework of child-friendly policies or child-centered governance which I thought most of the government agencies are well-aware of.

Some agencies may be led by the good intention of “saving children” but may be acting out of pure desire to just identify schools with high percentage of drug users, without much thought of putting in place a clear child-centered approach and intervention plan.

Good thing that the Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones has stood her ground on the need to change the law before the proposed mandatory drug testing for school children can be implemented.

Briones has pointed out that a surprise drug testing among secondary and tertiary students is enough to determine the severity of drug cases in schools and universities.  The Comprehensive Dangerous Drug Act of 2002 only authorizes drug testing for secondary and tertiary level students.

The DepEd said that the plan for mandatory drug testing will cost the government P2.8 billion to test some 14-million students from Grade 4 to Grade 12.  Would the government be ready to spend that much? Who would profit from this testing, given that this will involve young school children who are most likely to come out clean?

And this is where the important question comes in: What about the consent of these school children?  What would happen to them after they are subjected to this process?  Would any one care to consider listening to their voices?

They matter too.

The desire to have an environment safe for both children and adults, lies on the responsibility of everyone.  The better option to curtail the drug problem will always hinge on pro-active intervention for continuing education among children and youth, including psycho-social and community support for rehabilitation.

How many minors are involved in drug addiction to warrant this proposal to subject every school children to mandatory testing?

The protection of children does not come in violation of their dignity as a person. Let us not wish them to be subjected to this grueling process of proving themselves clean of drugs. There may be other options that could be more efficient and effective, one that is thoroughly studied, backed up by data and well-planned among other government agencies involved.  This, in consultation with other community stakeholders, including children could be the high road.  Email comments to roledan@gmail.com

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