Street children arrange flowers, thrown away by flower vendors, to sell to customers a day before Valentine's Day, in Manila on Feb. 13, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
It is vital that the Catholic Church, non-government organizations (NGOs), development agencies, and government put children at the heart of national and religious concerns. The Church and clergy must remember and act constantly on the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth when he made children the center of importance in the kingdom. “Whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me,” he said.
Jesus also demanded all abusers be brought to justice. “Better that that person (abuser) have a large millstone tied around his neck and he be drowned in the deep sea,” he said in Matthew 18:1-7.
When the evidence of clerical child sex abuse is overwhelming, is there any bishop, law enforcement officer, prosecutor and judge with the guts, courage and commitment to children, the law and love of justice, to bring him to justice?
Civil society, churches and government need to put children first and provide much more services that shelter, protect, heal and empower the thousands of abused and neglected children and help them win justice and convictions and end impunity and the cycle of abuse. It can be done.
"There is an urgent need to fund and expand Philippine expert law enforcement action groups to investigate child abusers"
The good news is that more than 150 children annually with care and therapy recover from both malnutrition of body and spirit at the Preda Foundation homes, having been victims of poverty, neglect, abandonment and sexual and physical abuse. They are empowered to testify with courage and bravery against their abusers and win an average of 15 convictions annually.
There is an urgent need to fund and expand Philippine expert law enforcement action groups to investigate child abusers especially online abuse and trafficking and to succeed in convicting them. The rate of convictions for these child traffickers in the Philippines nationwide is very low. According to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report for 2022, the government convicted only 56 traffickers—46 for sex trafficking, five for forced labor, and five for unspecified forms of exploitation — compared with 73 convictions in the previous reporting period.
The child victims/witnesses have to have protection and professional therapeutic care and expert social and psychological services in well-funded therapeutic homes for victims /survivors. In Central Luzon, there are only three government centers that provide therapeutic interventions and psychological healing for child victims of rape and sexual exploitation.
The vast majority of victims/survivors that report abuse are from impoverished families. This does not mean the middle class and the rich do not abuse children. They do as it is a heinous crime that has no boundaries to exclude anyone, no matter their economic or social status. The rich, the middle and upper classes, clergy, and celebrities have a greater ability to cover up their crimes with powerful legal representation, political connections and resources to pay off the victims and silence them by threats, intimidation and shame. This is common practice.
Poverty is not the cause of abuse. Child abuse is a crime committed by the free choice of an individual to commit an evil act. The availability and desire for money at any cost by some people, even parents, can prompt abusers to exploit children for financial rewards. There are thousands of foreigners that are paying large sums of money to view children being sexually abused online. As in all commerce, it is the law of demand and supply that rules and can destroy lives.
Poverty is a driving force that promotes child abuse. Poverty is the condition of millions of people that survive in a very unequal society where it is estimated that the rich that make up less than .01 percent of the population own 45 percent of the national wealth. The rich are becoming richer. According to financial analyst Frank Knight, the number of super-rich in the Philippines will grow by a whopping 36 percent between 2020 and 2025.
"All the child abusers need is a pre-paid one-hour internet connection and a cheap smartphone to connect their live sex shows to pedophiles"
The poorer are becoming poorer. According to the Asian Development Bank, 23.7 percent of the Philippine population was living below the national poverty line in 2021. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) says 20 million hungry Filipinos are below that line representing 18.1 percent of the population of 110 million Filipinos. There are more hungry families than in 2018 when there were 17.65 million below the poverty line.
That PSA poverty line is viewed with much skepticism by experts. The House of Representatives Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto, who is a former senator and former head of the National Economic and Development Authority, said the PSA was using a very low indicator of that poverty line to measure poverty. In fact, the poverty rate is much, much higher, he says.
According to the PSA, a household of five people only needs to earn US$1.41 every day to feed themselves. That low dollar amount is equivalent to just PhP82 a day per family. A family of five will need a bare minimum of 500 pesos a day for food to barely survive, which is equivalent to US$8.56. That’s why millions of unemployed Filipinos barely survive in squalid shacks and shanties in slums along the filthy canals.
The crimes of online sexual abuse of children are growing. All the child abusers need is a pre-paid one-hour internet connection and a cheap smartphone to connect their live sex shows to pedophiles. Much more has to be done in cracking the power of the telecommunication corporations (telcos) that allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to distribute online streaming videos of children being sexually abused with impunity. There are powerful software systems that can catch, identify child abuse online and capture it for investigators to identify the source and save the child victims.
However, until recently the telcos hide behind the excuse that they are not allowed to monitor the privacy of customers and that they are not responsible for what passes through their servers. The new law RA11930 otherwise known as the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) Act classifies them as Internet intermediaries and makes it clear that by law they must “develop, establish and install mechanisms or measures designed to prevent, detect, respond or report violations of this Act. . . ISPs must (2) Install and update programs and software designed to detect sexually explicit activities involving children and ensure that access to or transmittal of such materials will be blocked or filtered.”
This time the law is clear, no more excuses by the telcos and ISPs. They must comply with the law to protect and stop the use of their equipment and services to allow child abuse to thrive.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.