Filipino women and children take part in a dance exercise in Manila to draw attention to child sexual abuse. (Photo: AFP)
Philippine lawmakers have passed a measure that would impose stiffer penalties in child abuse, exploitation and discrimination cases.
The proposed Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act imposes bigger fines and longer jail terms for violators.
"This is a good step to minimize or totally eradicate cases involving children," said Father Conegundo Garganta, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Youth.
However, he said, there has to be a parallel structure to closely monitor avenues or occasions of abuse from happening.
Father Garganta said there should also be more cooperation between the government and civil society to ensure that incidents do not happen.
The proposed law will punish anyone who hires, employs, uses, persuades, induces or coerces a child to perform for obscene publications or in indecent shows with up to 17 years in prison.
If the child is below 12 years of age, the penalty could be up to 40 years.
People found with a minor, 12 years or under, in any public or private place without a valid reason could face 14 to 17 years in prison.
The proposed law also raises the penalty for using child labor from six months in jail to a minimum of one to six years or a fine of up to US$6,000.
Meanwhile, child rights group Save the Children appealed to the government to implement laws and policies that would protect children from online sexual abuse and exploitation.
According to the Philippine government’s National Baseline Study on Violence against Children, one in two Filipino children experience online abuse, while one in four is exposed to sexually explicit content.
"The government should pass and implement laws and policies that would protect children from [online sexual abuse and exploitation] ... and prosecute those who are exploiting our children and women through information, communication technologies," said lawyer Albert Muyot, chief executive of Save the Children Philippines.
The group also called on parents to educate their children on responsible use of the internet to prevent online exploitation. "The family should provide the first layer of protection for children," said Wilma Banaga, child protection adviser of Save the Children.
The National Baseline Study on Violence against Children also showed that 29 percent of children have been receiving sexual messages and some 3 percent of children said they had sent nude images or videos of their sexual activities on the internet.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines earlier announced that it is setting up an Office for the Protection of Children to help dioceses on issues of child abuse.
In December, Pope Francis lifted the Vatican's secrecy rule for sexual abuse cases. The rule had long been invoked by some church leaders to cover up cases and not cooperate with investigations.