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World

Child sex abuse failings are set in law

Age of consent laws set by many countries are way too low, illustrating how inadequate child protection measures really are

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Child sex abuse failings are set in law

Many schools in the Philippines don't teach children how to recognize and report abuse. (Photo by Angie de Silva) 

 

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Protecting children from sexual abuse has progressed greatly from medieval times when children aged 11 or 12, sometimes even younger, were considered capable of giving their consent to be sexually abused by adults.

This has changed somewhat in recent years in most countries but not yet in the Philippines where the age of consent is still 12 years old.

As such, sex with children below 12 years old is considered statutory rape. This is problematic because this means that sex with a child at 12 and older is not automatically considered child rape.

The child, prosecutors and child rights advocates have to prove in court that child rape occurred, and this process can be traumatic to the child.

The country's Penal Code has to be changed and bills are pending in Congress but irresponsibly not acted upon.

The age of consent is the age set by law when a person is considered legally competent to freely give his or her approval by free will to acts of a sexual nature. Below that set age, it is statutory rape.

The safe legal age of consent is 18. That is what 38 countries have. Most Western countries have 16-17 years, while in Portugal it is 21. In South American countries and Austria, it is 14 years of age. In Tokyo, Japan, it is 18, although the national law sets it at a low 13. South Korea has also set it at 13.

Some activists consider the Philippines to be notorious, medieval and backward with 12 years as the age of consent in the Penal Code, the lowest in Asia.

Nigeria is the most notorious of all with 11 years of age. Most judges and psychologists know that a child under 18 cannot give full consent by free will to sexual acts.

The shocking reality is that child protection laws worldwide are flouted, ignored and violated and crimes against children are widespread and tolerated. The Philippine sex bars offering up minors operate with permits issued by mayors. The rates of reporting have been notoriously low and convictions infrequent.

At the Preda Foundation, an organization that protects and heals abused children, the average number of annual convictions it secures is 18 with about another 32 ongoing cases. Judges are now more sensitive and aware of the gravity of child abuse and tend to believe the clear, direct testimony of the child victim rather than the contrived alibi or denial of the accused.

Child sexual abuse is society's dirty secret and it is like a pandemic everywhere. One in every three girls is sexually abused at least once in their lives, experts say. That's why preventive awareness building is so important.

Laws often ignored

Angelica was only 11 when her mother allowed her live-in partner to abuse her for four years. The mother held down the child while the man raped her repeatedly. The mother told the child it was normal and even if the child hated it, she was conditioned to endure it. It was only when Angelica had failing grades and her teacher asked her why that she revealed the abuse.

That school never taught children how to recognize and report abuse. The teacher had the child rescued and brought to the Preda Foundation home for abused children where Angelica is presently receiving care, protection and therapy with 55 other children. A criminal case was filed against the abuser.

Despite the laws forbidding sexual activity with a child below the age of consent, the laws are often ignored and in many countries they are circumvented by child marriage.

Pity the little girls as young as 8-15 that are "married off" to middle-aged adults, not only in the remote villages of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and India and some African countries but more shockingly in the United States of America, too. Thousands more children are sexually abused as prostitutes under the pretext of "pleasure marriages."

These arrangements are approved by a cleric and then dissolved by "divorce" after a day or night.

However, in the "Great Again" United States of America, child marriages are legal and more common than anyone ever thought.

So-called marriages of minors are allowed in most US states. There is no law preventing it. It is legal with parental consent and judicial approval. A judge can allow a 12-year-old to marry a 40-year-old.  

Girls as young as 12 in Virginia, 13 in New Hampshire and 14 in Alabama are able to legally marry. In Florida, an 11-year-old was forced to marry her 20-year-old rapist with family and church approval.

Delaware and New Jersey are exceptions. Since 2018, they have banned underage marriages in all circumstances.

The depraved desire to sexually abuse children is a heinous crime that can be prevented by more committed, focused, preventive campaigning and national awareness-building. It needs to be done everywhere. Children's lives are destroyed broken, wasted and childhood suffering lasts to the end of the victim's life unless there is healing, empowerment and justice.
 
This is what we can all work for, with the hope and trust that a common effort will change public attitudes, bring perpetrators to justice and make everyone knowledgeable and protective of the rights of the child.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.

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