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Ending the impunity that fuels child sexual abuse

Filipino children need better advocates and a stronger legal system in pursuit of justice

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Ending the impunity that fuels child sexual abuse

A red light district in Pampanga province (Photo by Vincent Go)

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Lady Justice is depicted with a blindfold while holding a scale and a sword. This image needs to change. She should be seen as a clear-eyed loving mother protecting children.   

Ten-year-old Maria was raped by the live-in partner of her mother. With the help of good neighbors and a government social worker, a case was filed against her attacker in October 2011 in the city of San Fernando in Pampanga province. 

Maria has already recovered from the trauma with the help of therapists at the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City. She was reunited with her caring grandmother, but she could not go home to her mother because the alleged rapist still lives there.

The court case against the accused has dragged on in the Regional Trial Court of Pampanga for the past five years. There seems to be no end in sight for Maria’s pursuit of justice against the man who violated her.

Maria is just one of thousands of child rape victims in the Philippines. Children as young as 14 are being sold in sleazy sex bars in the city of Angeles, also in Pampanga province.

A woman recently offered up a 14-year-old girl for sale on an Angeles street corner.

"Better you foreigners take her cherry than others," I heard the woman say to passing tourists. What she meant was that foreign pedophiles pay more than Filipino ones.

Maria, and the thousands like her in the Philippines and elsewhere, remain powerless to complain about this treatment and unable to report abuse out of fear.

In early June, the National Bureau of Investigation rescued three children in Pampanga and Bulacan provinces. Aged between five and eight, they were the victims of sexual exploitation at the hands of a grandmother and two aunts. The women posted naked images of the children online.

The Philippines ranks as one of the worst offenders when it comes to child pornography online, according to the Virtual Global Task Force, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies working to prevent online child abuse.

Part of the blame for this must fall on the country’s justice system. Court cases take years to resolve, while corruption and bribes often allow abusers to go free. The Philippines needs lawyers who will work for justice, not simply for money.

How often have I heard young and idealistic law students promise to fight for justice and side with the poor and oppressed? But in my 46 years of advocacy for justice for the poor, I have seen only a few lawyers offer pro bono assistance to those in need.

The country needs volunteer lawyers and judges to sit in family courts and monitor child abuse and trafficking cases. This might help curb corruption.

Until committed people of good will stand up and advocate for the end of human trafficking, cyber-sex abuse and the deferment of justice by corruption or apathy, more children like Maria will fall victim to abusers who are emboldened by impunity.

Irish Columban Fr Shay Cullen established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sexual abuse.

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