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Editorial

Save the powerless

/ 01:12 AM July 31, 2016

Outrageous and heartbreaking is the report that there were as many as 2,147 reported cases of child abuse in the first quarter of the year, representing nearly half of the total cases reported in the whole of 2015. This spike in child abuse is a frightening development to ponder given that only reported cases are tallied; the unreported ones are lost in the cracks of official reckoning and therefore invisible to the public eye.

Is there anything more terrible than taking advantage of and inflicting harm on the young and powerless? For a society that claims to value its children above all else, any act of abuse is essentially a betrayal of what makes us Filipino. And child abuse takes many forms, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Policy Development and Planning Bureau. The most common form is sexual abuse (which ranges from inappropriate touching to violent sexual acts); the others are sexual exploitation (which involves monetary gain on the part of the abuser), neglect, abandonment, trafficking, physical abuse and maltreatment, illegal recruitment, and child labor.

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The depravity of it boggles the mind. Here are children raped, sold, treated as less than human, forgotten, left behind, worked close to death. Recent news reports tell of female children raped and murdered, their bodies treated like discarded objects. The Davao teacher who forced his 17-year-old female student into a sexual relationship and then threatened to post her nude photos online. The Quezon City cabbie who exposed himself to his female passenger, a minor. The 33-year-old Taguig man who forced eight children to perform sexual acts for the online viewing of customers in Australia, Japan, the United States and the United Kingdom—and, to add to the horror, with the help of the mother of three of the kids.

Sometimes, pain and suffering are the children’s lot even when they are supposed to be in a “safe” environment. In a report based on their undergraduate thesis (“Prison-like shelters: Children in conflict with law,” Talk of the Town, 7/24/16), Jinky Cabildo and Matthew Reysio-Cruz described the veritable hellholes that pass for shelters for child offenders: “A majority of children placed in these shelters are locked up in dilapidated, unsanitary areas no different from prison cells, deprived of basic needs like clothing and food. Their emotional and mental needs are neglected.”

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The government-run shelters are called, ironically, Bahay Pag-Asa (“house of hope”). But rather than help child offenders “appreciate their worth and rebuild their lives,” as specified by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, the dreadful conditions—the absence of basic sanitation and health facilities, the steel bars, the abysmal lack of food and water—make these shelters Dickensian traps for the children, most of whom are driven to, if not despair, then desperate attempts to escape.

New Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo has raised the need for increased vigilance against child abuse, calling on citizens to report any case they encounter. The law provides that anyone reporting cases of child abuse has a right to confidentiality and anonymity, and that anyone proven to fail to report an incident of child abuse will be charged and fined.

The DSWD is stepping up its campaign against child abuse, to include “information dissemination … and implementation of psychosocial interventions geared toward the recovery, healing and reintegration of victims-survivors,” Taguiwalo said in a statement. “We want to promote a society where the rights of Filipino children are respected and protected. We cannot do this alone without the help of citizens who are concerned for our children’s welfare.”

Indeed, Taguiwalo and the DSWD shouldn’t stand alone in this endeavor. If it’s true that it takes a village to raise a child, then everyone should pull together to save and protect children from this rising scourge. The bottom line is that horrible crimes are being perpetrated on the young and powerless. This evil must be stopped, and the perpetrators quickly and justly punished.

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TAGS: Child abuse, children, Department of Social Welfare and Development, DSWD
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