Social Work & Human Rights

Manila Bulletin, January 22, 2011 | Go to article overview

Social Work & Human Rights


MANILA, Philippines - A few months ago, media brought to us the heart-wrenching story of Baby George, the infant who was found among the garbage to be thrown away in the Gulf Air plane that landed at NAIA. We were quick with our cries of sympathy and pity for the little boy, but we were quicker still with our condemnation of the seemingly heartless mother.Before long, the mother's story unfolded. Hers was a familiar one -- an OFW sexually assaulted by her employer and then summarily sent home. She could have been charged with a criminal offense, maybe sent to jail. Social workers were called and the last news report we got tells us of the possibility of reuniting mother and son. 'Social work is a profession not recommended for those with weak hearts. This is a profession where there must be a balance of the heart and the head.Social work - the desire to help others -- is inherent in the Filipino. It is a profession deeply ingrained in the Filipino spirit. Long before social work practice was institutionalized by the Philippine government, we had the words "bayanihan" and "damayan" to convey the Filipino spirit of helpfulness and caring.Even during the Second World War years when the Bureau of Public Welfare had to close down due to food shortage, there were volunteer organizations working in hospitals, churches, and convents, providing food, shelter, medical care, and treatment to victims of war.Social welfare services continued in the post-war years when the Bureau of Public Welfare re-opened and started operations despite limited funding. The creation of the Social Welfare Commission in 1946 under the Office of the President signifies that social welfare is a responsibility of the state. Today, social welfare remains in the agenda of the government with the DSWD on the official Cabinet of the President. (We can also say, getting the lion's share of the budget.)The mission of social work practice remains unchanged. According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), "Social work's primary mission is to enhance overall human being and to help meet the basic needs of all people with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty."Human rights have been defined by the United Nations (1987) as "rights which are inherent in our nature without which we cannot live as human beings. Human rights and fundamental rights allow us to fully develop and use our human qualities, our intelligence, our talents, our conscience to satisfy our spiritual and other needs." Human rights are universal (Reichart 2003), that is, every person is entitled to them, whatever color, race, religion, age, or status in life. They are also indivisible in that there is no hierarchy of rights. No person is to be given more rights than others.The concept of "rights" is not really new. The concept can be traced back to laws, customs, and religions of ancient history. The Code of Hammurabi by the Sumerian king Hammurabi is an example of a codification of laws created to protect people from arbitrary persecution. However, it was in Greece that the concept took greater meaning. For the Greeks, rights are synonymous with natural rights, rights that spring from natural laws. …

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