Violence against children is a dark stain on our common humanity. It takes various forms that, for cultural, social, and economic reasons, are not always or fully recognized. Because the problem is often suppressed and unreported, a silent scourge that is not “seen,” it does not get the attention it demands. Child protection laws and safety nets are weak or non-existent; there is a lack of trained medical professionals and social workers; and dedicated health facilities and services are absent or inadequate.
In the Philippines, pediatrician BERNADETTE J. MADRID has devoted her career to ensuring that the problem is “seen” and fully addressed. Born to a family of professionals in Iloilo, Philippines, she studied medicine and pediatrics at the University of the Philippines Manila (UP Manila) and did a post-residency fellowship in ambulatory pediatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. The center’s Child Abuse Program opened her eyes to a problem that she and fellow Filipino doctors did not quite discern, though this was very much a part of daily reality in her home country, with its conditions of poverty, child labor, trafficking, and violence.
Upon her return to the Philippines, she tried to establish a Child Abuse Program in the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in Manila, the country’s premier public hospital, but the program was short-lived for lack of support. MADRID returned to Iloilo, started a private practice, and seemed headed for a quiet, provincial career until she was called back to Manila in 1996 to head an emergency unit for abused children in PGH, at the insistence of UP Manila and American child protection crusader David Bradley and the Advisory Board Foundation (now CityBridge Foundation). In 1997, MADRID assumed as head of the PGH Child Protection Unit (PGH-CPU), the first such facility in the country. She would in the next twenty-five years pursue an active, multifaceted career that would put her at the helm of what has been praised as “the best medical system for abused children in Southeast Asia.”
A one-stop health facility, PGH-CPU provides a coordinated program of medical, legal, social, and mental health services for abused children and their families. As of 2021, it has served 27,639 children. It became the axis of a national network of child protection units when the Child Protection Network Foundation, Inc. (CPN), a partnership of civil society, academe, and government, was established in 2002. As CPN executive director, MADRID has designed programs and engaged with family courts, schools, hospitals, local government units, community organizations, and policymakers in advancing the cause of child protection.
In partnership with UP Manila, PGH-CPU, CPN, Department of Health, local government units, and the private sector, the Network of Women and Child Protection Units (WCPUs) was formed. The network now consists of 123 WCPUs in sixty-one provinces and ten cities, which have served 119,965 children and adolescents and 30,912 women. The network has a total staff of 237 physicians, 199 social workers, and eighty-five police officers. As head of CPN, MADRID oversees and coordinates the network’s five areas of work: medical and psychosocial care, child safety and legal protection, a national program for training in child protection, a national network of WCPUs, and research for a national database on child abuse. It is multidisciplinary work that calls for MADRID to be all at once a doctor, educator, researcher, social leader, organizer, and advocate. She has pursued it with humility and strength grounded in faith. She says: “I feel that I was prepared to do this work. I was given the talent to do this and it has developed as I worked. That’s why I’m happy. It has become, for me, work that is God’s work.”
In electing BERNADETTE J. MADRID to receive the 2022 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes her unassuming and steadfast commitment to a noble and demanding advocacy; her leadership in running a multisectoral, multidisciplinary effort in child protection that is admired in Asia; and her competence and compassion in devoting herself to seeing that every abused child lives in a healing, safe, and nurturing society.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have been selected to receive the Ramon Magsaysay Award. Thank you all so much for being here to share this momentous occasion with me. I am so honored to have my work recognized by Asia’s most prestigious award!
I was asking “Why me?” I found more reasons as to why I am undeserving of this Award. It is like the violin player receiving recognition on behalf of the whole orchestra…I am just one violin player. The other members of the orchestra are here tonight and I share this Award with each one of them. It is a recognition of our work. Please stand up and take a bow.
Women and Children Protection Units in every province is the core work of the Child Protection Network Foundation. This year, The Philippine General Hospital Child Protection Unit is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In the last 25 years, I have learned that there are no quick fixes, that we cannot do this alone, that we need the system to work and that we need ordinary people to do their job with purpose, compassion, and skill.
Unfortunately, I also found out that ending violence against children will not happen on its own. We need to fight for it. It needs planning, commitment, resources, persistence, and leadership. With it comes accountability.
There is no other cause where everyone in the country has a responsibility – starting with parents, schools, and communities. Universal parenting programs, safe schools, access to justice seem like common sense but they are not.
When we meet with leaders, they say protecting children is a nice issue and we will get there after we have solved this crisis or that crisis. But violence against children is a crisis! Children are fast becoming an endangered species and with them goes our humanity. We can prevent violence against children and most importantly we know how. We are stewards of this world and particularly of the children. We are stewards of their soul.
The Ramon Magsaysay Award has made me realize how much people care and that I am not alone.
Can we count on you?
If we can, please stand up. Place your hands on your chest and repeat after me
“Ako Para sa Bata!” I am for every child.
I am humbled and appreciative.