Violence affects majority of our children
“Very alarming” is how Christian Saludar, a children’s representative with the Council for the Welfare of Children, described the findings of the recently launched National Baseline Study on Violence against Children (NBS-VAC).
Indeed, added Dr. Bernie Madrid of the Child Protection Network, violence against children is a “huge problem,” affecting at least 25 million Filipino youths. But there is good news: “It is preventable.”
Most prominent among the findings of this first-ever national study: 80 percent of the almost 4,000 child and youth respondents (13-24 years old) said they have “experienced violence in their lifetime.” The majority (three of every five) said they had been physically abused or bullied, with most of the assaults taking place at home, at the hands of adults “whom they trusted,” including their parents. The next most common locale was in school, at the hands of teachers, classmates and playmates. Clearly, for Filipino children, the places and people they trust most are also where and from whom they are most at risk.
One in every five children also said they had been sexually violated, again with most of the abuse committed by family members but also by people the children knew: neighbors, relatives, teachers, schoolmates, even so-called respectable members of society.
The study also took note of other forms of abuse: verbal, such as name-calling and cussing; neglect; and exploitation.
Such incidents and stories may no longer shock and awe. But with the advent of technology, new forms of abuse are increasingly common: cyberbullying, sexual exploitation on pornographic websites (often with the active intervention of parents), and demands for personal meetings that sometimes end in rape.
Sadly, and infuriatingly, Dr. Laurie Ramiro, the principal investigator, revealed that “poly-victimization is common among abused children.” She added that LGBT children are particularly at risk, with eight out of ten reporting that they had been physically abused (out of the belief that their “deviant” behavior could be beaten out of them), while a third said they had also been sexually abused.
Explaining perhaps why child abuse is so widespread and seemingly tolerated here, the investigators also interviewed local authorities charged with implementing the slew of laws penalizing child abuse.
Although under the law barangays (villages) are obliged to set up a council for the protection of children, most barangays don’t have one in place, or if they do, these are not fully functional. At best, she added, these are mainly “reactive and not proactive.”
Working against the interests of children is also, said Ramiro, the “high acceptability” of corporal punishment in Philippine culture.
Madrid named factors that somehow contribute to an environment of violence and risk, and what she calls “the culture of silence.” Foremost of these is high poverty and the high inequality it fosters, although most speakers were quick to point out that violence against children cuts across all classes. A parent who was abused as a child is more likely to abuse his or her own child. Frequent natural disasters, and the ensuing dislocation and familial division, she added, also contribute to the growth of violence. Indeed, said Ramiro, the incidence of family violence rises threefold after a disaster.
The study was carried out with the support of the Council in partnership with Unicef and with the UP Institute of Health Policy and Development Studies and the Consuelo Foundation.
But clearly, for the study to have a real, effective impact on policies, implementation and the development, indeed the very survival, of our children, the rest of the government needs to be involved as well. Toward this end, there was a signing of a joint declaration and statement of commitment of both government representatives and NGOs.
Unicef country representative Lotta Sylwander put the matter in the proper perspective: Violence against a child, she said, starts a multigenerational cycle of violence that affects not just the child and that grown child’s children, but also the rest of society, and on and on.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.