That, according to Unicef country representative Lotta Sylwander, the Philippines now appears to be “some kind of center” for the sexual abuse of children is a damning indication of the plague on Filipino kids.
Then again it’s hardly new; it has been reported before—that pedophiles from all over the world consider the Philippines happy hunting grounds for children, particularly the impoverished, who are offered as prey by their own families in exchange for tidy sums. In fact cybersex shops have been found to operate in the middle of villages and towns, with parents themselves serving as pimps.
The survey by Unicef and the Philippine Council for the Welfare of Children had harrowing findings: Eight of 10 Filipino youth are subjected to one form of abuse or another. Among children and youth aged 13-24, one in five had been sexually abused, with over 60 percent of the cases occurring in their own homes. This first ever study, known as the National Baseline Study on Violence against Children (NBS-VAC), tells us how bad things have gotten.
A glance at the past reinforces the horror. In 2015, Taguig City police managed to rescue eight girls aged 13-18 from a house where they had been forced to engage in sexual acts for online viewers in countries such as Japan and the United States; among the adults arrested was the mother of three of the children. The mastermind, a 33-year-old man, had been charging viewers $50 to $100. Earlier that year, a 51-year-old Australian was arrested for sexually abusing eight girls, even killing one of them. In 2014, Navotas City authorities, with the aid of an agent from the US Department of Homeland Security, rescued four young girls and arrested two suspected cybersex traffickers. In 2014 the town of Cordova in Metro Cebu was tagged “ground zero of online child pornography.” As one official of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in Central Visayas said, “village officials know that it is happening but they have not done anything.”
Aside from the tragedy of family members trafficking their kin, online child pornography is horrific because it takes a boon that empowers—the democratic effect of technology and the internet—and turns it into a bane that destroys. “The internet and mobile phones have revolutionized young people’s access to information, but the poll findings show just how real the risk of online abuse is for girls and boys,” said Cornelius Williams, Unicef associate director for child protection. Unicef reported that the number of criminal cases filed in the Philippines has risen from 57 in 2013 to 167 in 2015. It’s a hugely dangerous world out there, with international child rights agency Terre des Hommes stating there are more than 75,000 child predators prowling the internet.
Beyond sexual abuse, there are the occurrences of physical violence such as corporal punishment carried out in schools by teachers. Principal investigator Dr. Laurie Ramiro noted that there is a “high acceptability” of corporal punishment in Philippine society, as well as a “culture of silence” that is passed down from one abused generation to the next.
It’s time to come to terms with this unacceptable situation that continues to threaten some of what could become the Philippines’ best and brightest. “The study has shown that we really need to be more serious in addressing violence against children which is happening all over the country, from the places that are supposedly safe—the homes—to the schools to the streets and the rest of the community,” said Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.
A regular conduct of the NBS-VAC in the coming years will provide responsible officials with an opportunity to monitor the situation and devise effective means to end these crimes against young Filipinos. This festering problem needs a wholistic solution, from stamping out poverty to generating employment to, again, intensive information campaigns for both adults and kids on the evils of child abuse.