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News & Blog > Blogs: "Perspectives, Provocations & Initiatives" > War on Drugs and Children in the Philippines

War on Drugs and Children in the Philippines

Nana Sugaya (MADev15) explores the relationship between former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's poverty reduction policies and his 'war on drugs' and their affect on the livelihoods of children.
Photo by: Ryomaandres at Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Ryomaandres at Wikimedia Commons

War on drugs – an anti-drug campaign through which the governments strengthen enforcement, increase penalties or use violence towards its population to eradicate illegal drugs. As many people may already know, the Philippines is no exception to this campaign.

The former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (June 2016 - June 2022) began a war on drugs that would enable the government, through the Philippine National Police (PNP), to slaughter both the country’s drug users and dealers. As a result of this violence, over 6,000 people were murdered by PNP officers and assassins (often referred to as vigilantes).

The World Organisation Against Torture reported that at least 122 children aged from 1 to 17 were killed between 2016 and 2019 due to the war on drugs . In addition, research by Clarissa David and Ronaldo Mendoza revealed that the estimated number of children who lost at least one parent due to the war was at least 9,068. These statistics alone demonstrate the threat the war on drugs had on the livelihoods of Filipino children.

Alongside the anti-drugs campaign, Duterte’s administration created several strategies to help alleviate child poverty and improve the livelihoods of Filipino children. However, is it likely that the campaign had a negative impact on children’s livelihoods meaning his child poverty reduction strategies were not inclusive of all Filipino children?

This blog will focus on the livelihoods of children whose parents were casualties of the war on drugs and discuss how the campaign has affected child poverty reduction policies in the Philippines.

Duterte’s child poverty reduction strategies

Achieving inclusive economic growth by tackling poverty was the main pillar of Duterte’s administration. Three strategies can be identified as being pursued by the Philippine government to address child poverty:

  1. Child-sensitive social protection

Pantawid Pamiliyang Pilipinong Programme, more commonly known as ‘4Ps’, is a conditional cash transfer programme which was made available for extremely poor households who are either expecting a child or have children under 18 years of age. It aims to break intergenerational poverty by investing in health and education as the condition ensures caregivers send their children to school and use healthcare services regularly. The government institutionalised this in 2019.

      2. Eradication of child labour

In 2019, the government established the National Council Against Child Labour to strengthen the public system to help abolish child labour. The council performs several functions such as designing policies, coordinating campaigns and improving monitoring systems. For example, one of their commitments is the SHIELD Against Child Labor project which provides appropriate support, such as financial assistance, to child laborers and their families depending on their needs as well as promoting the rights on the child. The support from the projects such as SHIELD should result in improved livelihoods for families and children, as well as a reduction in child poverty.

      3. Expansion of affordable higher education

In addition to 4Ps and monetary support for children attending primary and secondary school, the government extended tuition-free public education to the tertiary level in 2017 by implementing the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act. This act enables Filipino students who study at all state universities and colleges to benefit from a subsidy to cover their tuition fee.

With these poverty reduction strategies, the Duterte administration has supported household income for families with children, strengthened policies aimed at abolishing child labour, and provided opportunities for children to continue with higher education, seemingly showing the governments support for improving the livelihoods of Philippines’ children. However, the government did not take into consideration the effects of the war on drugs in their child poverty reduction strategies.

Impacts of the violent anti-drug campaign on children of victims of the war on drugs

Research by Human Rights Watch reveals that Filipino children who lost their parents have experienced mental distress and trauma with some children facing difficulties to adjust to the loss of their parents or to feel happiness.

In addition to the mental distress and trauma, significant economic and social impacts attributable to the drug-related killings have reportedly affected the children.

Many victims of the war on drugs were breadwinners of low-income households, meaning their death has led to reduced household income. This resulted in some children dropping out of school as well as incidents of child labour. In terms of the social impact experienced, some children were bullied due to the stigma surrounding drug-related killings at times leaving them scared to go to school or unable to concentrate effectively, potentially leading to disruptions in their education.

Aside from funeral and medical expense subsidies, and the 4Ps, there is no governmental support for children who lost parents in the war on drugs police operations. Further forms of supports would be offered from the Catholic church and local non-governmental organisations, such as children’s rights groups, however, the increasing number of parental casualties made it difficult for these organisations to address their needs.

War on drugs v. child poverty reduction

The war on drugs has had negative psychological, economic, and social impacts on children whose parents lost their lives through the anti-drug campaign. These impacts have led to consequences such as decreased household income, incidents of child labour, and children dropping out of school, thus demonstrating the war on drugs deteriorated the overall wellbeing of children living in poverty.

Ironically, the economic and social impacts the war on drugs had on these children, were the very same problems that the Philippine government had tried to reduce through its child poverty reduction strategies.

A study conducted on the effects of drug-related killings on beneficiaries of the 4Ps programme shows that one-third of drug war related killings in Metro Manila were most likely those of 4Ps beneficiaries. This illustrates how the war on drugs contradicted the main purpose of the 4Ps – to reduce poverty – and pushed poor people who received monetary support deeper into poverty.

The research also failed to include children whose cash transfers were stopped because they had dropped out of school or were not enrolled on the 4Ps programme in the first place. It is therefore possible that the number of impoverished children who have been affected by the war on drugs is far greater than the number investigated.

What should the government do?

Although some children have benefited from the government’s poverty reduction policies and have not been directly affected by the war on drugs, the government needs to pursue inclusive policies to achieve its overall aim of inclusive growth.

 Children who are impacted by the anti-drug campaign should not continue to be ignored. The Philippines has demonstrated the damaging negative consequences of the war on drugs on the lives of children who lost parents during the campaign. These consequences reveal the failure of the government to achieve inclusive child poverty reduction strategies and improve livelihoods of all Filipino children. 

The next president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s administration, needs to provide both psychological, economic, and social support for children affected by the war on drugs, adopt a less violent anti-drugs policy and ensure future child poverty reduction policies are inclusive to ensure not only inclusive economic growth, but positive and sustainable livelihoods for all Filipino children.


This is one of a series of blogs supported by the IDS alumni office and written by current IDS students and PhD Researchers from academic year 2021-2022 Spring Term. 

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