THIS week, from Feb. 11 to Feb. 17, 2018, the Philippines will mark its 22nd observance of the “National Awareness Week for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation.” This is pursuant to Proclamation No. 731, signed by then president Fidel Ramos on Feb. 5, 1996, having as its basis Article I, Section 2 of Republic Act 7610 or the Anti-Abuse Against Children Law which states: “The State shall provide special protection to children from all forms of abuse, neglect, cruelty, exploitation, and discrimination and other conditions prejudicial to their development.”
The Proclamation recognizes the child sexual abuse as a social reality and a “profound violation of the rights of children.” This kind of abuse adversely affects the child’s health, survival and development, including his dignity as a human being. Thus, without government recognition of the existence of this problem, child sexual abuse and exploitation will plague the nation now and in the future with no proper intervention being made.
In Central Visayas, child sexual abuse, which includes rape and acts of lasciviousness, surpasses physical abuse in the overall crimes committed against children in 2017. This data pertains only to those reported to the Philippine National Police (PNP), and does not reflect cases that were amicably settled or kept silent for the shame it brings, ironically to the child’s family. In many instances of incestuous rapes, it is the child’s own family members who dissuade the victim from reporting or filing of a case against the rapist, harboring the wrong notion that the case will tear apart the family.
Twenty six years of implementing RA 7610, however, and we have yet to curb child sexual abuse and exploitation. Recent developments show the exploitation morphing into child trafficking and pornography, with many incidents perpetuated by family members to satisfy carnal lust of foreign patrons.
In 2011, US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas, Jr. estimated 40 percent of foreign male tourists come to the Philippines for sex. His statement is validated by data from the Australian Federal Police in 2014 that there were 250 convicted Australian sex offenders who entered the Philippines as tourists. The arrests of those caught sexually exploiting Filipinos show that the victims are usually young women and children.
It is worth pondering that Filipino women and children are favorite victims of child pornography perpetuated by sexual perverts from around the globe.
The government cannot turn a blind eye from the abuses committed upon the Filipino children, especially in the internet age, when perpetrators may be people outside the bounds of Philippine laws. It must send a very strong signal to sex tourists and internet predators that sexual abuse will not be taken lightly when committed by Filipino citizens, more so when committed by foreign exploiters.
Our children are not for sale. The Filipino people is not for sale. It is high time to restore dignity to the Filipino child. This is the challenge of this week’s observance as it is the challenge to this administration.--Children’s Legal Bureau