I saw the photo on Facebook: A bloody corpse lies sprawled on a sidewalk, uncovered, while people look on, including a group of children. Some of the children seem indifferent to the gory sight, while others are looking away, evidently upset. None of the adults in sight seem unduly disturbed that children are being greeted by a dead body so early in the morning. Obviously, it has become routine.
During a press briefing marking the launch of the “National Baseline Study on Violence against Children,” I asked the panel members who included Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo: What effect are the drug killings, as exemplified by the photo I cited, having on the children exposed to them? Was this not a form of violence against children, too?
Certainly, the sight of corpses in the street—a few of which could be those of people known to the children, their parents, siblings, relatives, friends, and neighbors—is enough to cause posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children, or even in adults, said Dr. Bernie Madrid of the Child Protection Network Foundation Inc.
But the proliferation of drugs, she pointed out, has been a major social (and not just a law-and-order) problem for the Philippines for many years. The question is: What is the best way to solve it?
For her part, Taguiwalo said that, really, only a small percentage of drug users who surrender to authorities need institutionalization. The majority would be better off in what she described as “community-based” facilities, acknowledging the need to find “creative and innovative ways” to address the drug problem.
It was a young man, Christian Saludar, the child representative in the panel, who pointed out that children “who lose their parents or who witness killings” need emotional and psychological treatment for the trauma they experience, trauma that will not be addressed in an instant or by the sight of the country’s police chief dressed in a Santa Claus outfit distributing gifts to kids orphaned by the war on drugs.
When I asked Christian what he thought of the TV footage of “Bato” dela Rosa making like Father Christmas, he declared: “He may be giving the children only temporary joy but it will not be enough to offset the bad consequences. A long-term response is necessary.”
Another problem that needs an immediate and comprehensive response is that the Philippines is, according to Unicef’s Lotta Sylwander, “some kind of center [in Southeast Asia] for child sexual abuse.” Sylwander cited the results of the release of “Sweetie,” a video purportedly offering sexual services of children, in which users were free to choose the nationality of the child on offer. Most of the users who logged on to the site, not knowing it was created by European law enforcers to entrap child exploiters, chose a “Filipino” child, perhaps an indication of the ease with which child abusers could access our children.
Still on child sexual exploitation, the folks behind the study revealed that more boys than girls report having experienced sexual abuse at least once in their life. Why boys?
Madrid pointed out that there is a “big difference” in the experience of sexual abuse between boys and girls. Citing studies, she said girls are more likely to be raped (by a family member or someone known to them) or gang-raped, then murdered and their bodies dumped in the open. While boys, she said, because they are “less restricted” than girls, are more likely to be sexually abused outside the home, but usually after being lured or seduced by an adult, or gang-raped by bullies.
All this is in the context of the finding that the Philippines ranks No. 1 in the world in terms of severity of abuse of children.
This may come as a shock to Filipinos who pride ourselves in our religiosity and in our close family ties. But this also comes as part of a package with cultural values that deem that children are the parents’ “property,” to do with as they wish, even if this includes sexually (and economically) exploiting them, and inflicting physical, psychological and emotional scars that last a lifetime and through generations.
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