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Put the children at the back

Eduardo Martinez

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In our country, we have a good number of laws geared towards protecting our children. We have the Labor Code that penalizes employers who employ minors. We have Republic Act 7610 which, from its name alone – Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act – clearly spells out what it seeks the children to be shielded from. We also have the Violence Against Women and Their Children (VAWCI or Republic Act 9262) which safeguards these helpless little ones against abuses by fathers or partners (of their mothers). And the list of laws for children’s welfare and safety goes on and on.

We Filipinos, caring as we always do for our children, will always have that mindset that our children should be placed in their proper seats and places in the car

It greatly pains me to read in the news about children, so young and innocent, being involved in vehicular accidents. What I find even more troubling is how grossly negligent the driver of the vehicle is who caused the accident. If only there is another law in the country that provides more safety measures for children in motor vehicles, then that should definitely help avert serious injuries or even death to these young ones.

At last – and I hope the wait will not be too long – we have one which is just awaiting the President’s imprimatur. This bill entitled “An Act Providing for the Special Protection of Child Passengers in Motor Vehicles” mandates that children below 12 are prohibited from sitting on the front row of the vehicle. If they do not reach a certain height requirement, they can only sit at the back and must be placed in a child restraint system. What’s more, from what I heard, there is also a provision that these little ones cannot be left unattended inside cars. A violation of any of the provisions of this hopefully soon-to-be law will mean monetary penalties and even the suspension of the driver’s license.

This I believe is high-time to be implemented in the Philippines. We have had one accident too many involving children. With this law, motorists will be forced to be disciplined to observe these safety requirements, thus further lessening accidents resulting in unwanted injuries or even death to these minors.

I guess once we get used to this law, it’ll all just come naturally. When we have a baby, we automatically put him in the child seat at the back row. Gone will be those days when we’d see a mother sitting an infant on her lap on the front seat of the car. Also, we’d be mindful of the possible penalties in case of infraction. Not only that, isn’t it just such a hassle to be pulled over by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority for that?

This reminds of the Seat-Belt Use Act (Republic Act 8750). Before its passage, you could only count the number of people using seat belts. When the law took effect, when you look to your left, right and back while driving, chances are you’d see both drivers and passengers in their cars neatly buckled-up. Of course, you still see those not using the seat belt. But I think that is more the exception now rather than the general rule. But the thing is, the law has put buckling up in our subconscious. Now, when we enter the car, we automatically reach for the seat belt even when thinking about lots of other things. Sometimes, we even think of putting on the belt while driving, only to realize that we have it on already.

I remember many years back when I would visit my sister in the US. During those days, her three (now grown-up) kids were still little then. My brother-in-law’s van would have three car seats for all of them, as they were just a year or two apart from each other. And we, the grown-up passengers, would fit ourselves snuggly between them. Because of the seat belt law and its strict implementation in the US, my sister and brother-in-law were religiously compliant. It was very painful for them to pay a steep fine for the infraction. And it would not be a wonder to see many cars with child restraint seats in them. Proof that Americans indeed followed the law.

So, will it not be nice to have that kind of discipline in our country? Hopefully, when the bill is signed and becomes law, we Filipinos, caring as we always do for our children, will always have that mindset that our children should be placed in their proper seats and places in the car. Yes, we may want them always on our laps and clinging to us; but maybe not when we are driving. Remember, by following the law, we show more love and concern for our young ones.

As a final note, this soon-to-be law is only applicable to private vehicles. I thus await a version, if any, that will apply to public vehicles. I am sure it will be a lot stricter and with more requirements.

What I await with even more fervor is a law that further regulates driving of motorcycles. In the Philippines, we see families of five, three of whom are minors, all riding one – yes, just one – motorcycle. You see the baby on the handlebar, two children held by both arms by the mom who is seated behind the dad, the driver. Then you see the minor old enough to hang on, at the tail end of the bike’s saddle. Worse, none of them wears a helmet. I am aware of the laws that regulate the driving of motorcycles. I sure hope one specifically for child protection is passed soon.

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