The Philippines drugs agency has proposed mandatory drug testing all schoolchildren aged 9 years old and above. Testing all private and state school students from Grade 4 (aged 9–10) has been proposed by Aaron Aquino, the director of the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). If implemented, all schoolteachers would also need to undergo drug testing.

Drug testing in secondary schools has been legally permitted in the country since 2002, but this is implemented on a random basis and is not mandatory for all pupils. The latest proposal from the PDEA marks a significant escalation of the Philippines’ approach to drug testing. The Department of Education has criticised the proposal for its high cost. It has also claimed the move would be illegal under the Drugs Act because it targets elementary school children.

It is unclear what consequences will be faced by children who test positive for illegal drug use, but pending legislation suggests they may face harsh penalties. If the bill passes, children as young as nine who test positive for drug use could face the same penalties as adults. According to Section 15 of the Drugs Act, this could be a minimum of 6 months rehabilitation in a government centre.

The head of the Philippines’ Alliance of Concerned Teachers denounced the proposal saying: “We should not permit this to happen. The state, which has the responsibility to protect our youth, apparently wants to make criminals out of them. This government should disabuse itself of its belief that we are a nation of drug addicts.”

House Bill 002, which is currently under consideration by Congress, has the support of President Rodrigo Duterte. President Duterte’s war on drugs has left thousands dead and many living in fear of the police. Previous mandatory drug testing led to those testing positive being killed. In 2017, police began mandatory door-to-door drug testing people in an impoverished Manila neighbourhood. It was later alleged that this was undertaken with the goal of clearing people out of slums, including by killing some of them.

Children who do not receive treatment for their drug use would become “our very enemies”, warns Aquino. If passed, the proposed drug testing of children could have devastating consequences.

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