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Philippines Youth Radio Gives Children Their Own Voice

Children in the Philippines are speaking out on issues that concern them: abuse, health and education for the many poor. And they are doing it on the air with their own radio show.

It is Saturday morning, just before the weekly radio broadcast. Several dozen children, aged 12 to 19 years old, from the Philippine town of San Jose in the province of Occidental Mindoro, are rehearsing for their hour-long program on the community radio station.

Called Bidang Bulilit or Small Children Are Stars the program reaches three million children and adults in this rural rice growing and fishing island, some 200 kilometers southwest of Manila.

The staff at local radio station DZVT and the Broadcasters Association of the Philippines give these children professional training in news writing and presenting.

The local Roman Catholic Church owns the radio station that gives airtime to the children.

"This Bidang Bulilit is an occasion for these kids to actualize their potential," said Father Philip Alex Alcantara, the director of the Catholic Social Services Commission in San Jose. "They are advocates for their own rights; they are the ones pushing for this advocacy in the name of their fellow kids. "

The show's purpose is broader than just teaching broadcast journalism skills. On air since 1999, the show focuses on children's rights. The young broadcasters-in-training discuss issues ranging from health and education and to family matters and child abuse.

Nieriza Palada, who is now 19 and has been president of Bidang Bulilit since 1999, says: "We express our opinions and we can say whatever we want, to address the listeners - not only the children, the teachers, the parents, but also the Government officials - that is our target."

Radio is a key means of communication for child development issues, as many of the three million listeners in the central part of the country are farmers, often isolated without easy access to TV and newspapers.

The program has elevated the issues of children within the local community. A member of Bidang Bulilit sits as child representative to the regional sub-committee for the Welfare of Children. And the show has helped lead to the creation of the Municipal Council of the Protection of Children.

More than 40 percent of the Philippines' 81 million people are under the age of 18. And many of the young people's concerns stem from poverty and malnutrition.

The United Nations Children's Fund says more than 30 percent of children under the age of five suffer from malnutrition.

A high proportion of Filipino children are also at risk from abuse either at home or through exploitive and dangerous work. Rights and advocacy groups estimate some four million Filipino children are forced to work in mining, prostitution, firecracker industries and on plantations.

The main financial support for the radio program comes from the aid organization, Plan International, which has been working for 40 years in the Philippines on child-centered development programs, such as building schools.

Natividad Silorio, program manager with Plan International in San Jose, says support for the radio show is part of Plan's promotion of child education.

"We are now into development education, which is the promotion [of child development], especially this Bidang Bulilit, because they promote the rights of the child, the different issues they tackle in their program," said Mr. Silorio.

Children address their issues through poems, book readings and interviewing special guests. Bidang Bulilit's, Miss Palada, says children listeners regularly call them for advice on how to improve their lives and outlook.

"We encourage them to participate in a certain activity in the community," she said. "We encourage them to at least participate in such activities that can be their stepping stone to develop their skills and talents."

By encouraging participation, the young broadcasters hope to pass on to their listeners some of their own confidence, and offer an alternative path away from isolation and the grip of poverty.