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The greatest depravity: 12-year-old girls sold as 'baby brides'

What could be more depraved than to cover up child sexual abuse by declaring that the relationship was approved by marriage?

The greatest depravity: 12-year-old girls sold as 'baby brides'

The Catholic-majority Philippines has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world, allowing adults to legally have sex with children as young as 12 if they agree. (Photo: AFP)

Why are Philippine senators and members of the House of Representatives delaying the completion and passing of vital historical laws that will protect children presently at grave risk of being victims of sexual abuse and sold as “baby brides” for the sexual gratification of old men?

Some senators are allegedly delaying the passing of a bill that will raise the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16. When passed, engaging in sex with a minor under 16 will be classed as statutory rape. In the House of Representatives, the bill passed by the Senate against child marriage (Senate Bill 162 or the Girls Not Brides Act of 2019) faces indifference and a long delay passing it.

Recent reports show that many thousands of girls as young as 12 worldwide and in the Philippines are being sold off to men aged 25 and older in so-called child marriages.

The pandemic, poverty, loss of jobs and hardship are likely driving the huge increase in the sale of child brides, which is really child sexual abuse and a cover for pedophilia. It is a tactic to evade the child protection laws and satisfy their lust for sexual gratification with a child. It has to be stopped. 

A child cannot exercise free will and give consent to such a relationship when under the pressure of parents and adults. In most cases, there is no formal wedding ceremony. The child is forced to live in with the older man. A payment or “dowry” in kind or cash is common. Two healthy goats will get you a 15-year-old girl in some villages.

But this abusive relationship is a serious violation of human rights. UNICEF says: “The right to free and full consent to a marriage is recognized in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in many subsequent human rights instruments — consent cannot be ‘free and full’ when at least one partner is very immature.”

The shocking reality today is that one in every three girls is sexually abused worldwide and it applies to the Philippines

A child in Philippine law is below 18 and a minor under 18 cannot drive a vehicle or drink alcohol, but a 12-year-old child can have sex with a 40-year-old man, and they call it marriage. Why has this been allowed to go on for generations? It speaks of a wicked and deviant element in society, a social evil, where the ruling powers have conspired to keep it that way. Church leaders did not and do not speak out, express moral outrage, protest and campaign for a change in the law to protect vulnerable children.

The ruling powers in society decided to stay quiet and to keep it that way for the pleasure of depraved pedophiles in high and low positions of authority. They found it convenient to salve their depraved conscience by saying a child of 12 or 14 or 16 gave consent and it is legal, however grossly immoral it is. Children are brainwashed into believing that the older man loves them because he gives them nice things. In the Philippines, a recent survey in Zambales discovered many children as young as 12 have been sold to older men as “brides” in return for payment.

However, the Senate passed the Girls Not Brides Act 2019 by an overwhelming majority led by its main sponsor, Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros, who is the chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality in the 18th Congress.

The House of Representatives has balked and so far refused to pass a similar bill. That's a big win for the child sexual abusers in power. In the Senate, there are those senators delaying the passing of the law to raise the age of sexual consent from 12 to 16. When children are being raped or sexually abused every day, a delay is another big win for the pedophiles.

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The shocking reality today is that one in every three girls is sexually abused worldwide and it applies to the Philippines. The abusers are the biological father, uncle, stepfather, live-in partner of the mother, brother, cousin, neighbor, a pastor, or priest or a powerful person. Some 13-year-old children are even raped by so-called rescuers of trafficked children.

The culture of denial, cover-up and enforced silence is placed on the victims and on their families to protect society, institutions, charities, civic organizations, churches and the powerful. It is a culture of silence to protect the guilty and to avoid the shame and severe legal consequences.

The so-called consent by the child to “marriage” is really fear of punishment, disapproval and denial of parental love and support. The child is frightened into being subservient and too terrified to cry out, scream and run and tell. Most times there is no one to tell, no one to listen, no one who cares. Child sexual abuse under the guise of consent and “child marriages” has been condoned by the powerful for generations. The child cannot say no or complain because she has no choice.

What could be more depraved than to cover up child sexual abuse and try to avoid the penalties of strict anti-child abuse laws by declaring that the relationship was approved by marriage? The “child bride” defense for pedophilia is common. If a man rapes a child and then offers to marry her and pay a dowry, frequently it is approved by many parents. This is a crime and cultural depravity. The new law will stop it.

The recent study in Zambales province showed that among poor villagers the practice is widespread. Mavie (not her real name) is 12 and her parents “married” her off to a 20-year-old man in return for a payment. She had no say in it. He treats the child as his wife and regularly has sex with her. The girl says she wants to go to school like any child. Even worse, the parents allow the man to live in their bamboo-thatched hut with their daughter. A semi-illiterate 12-year-old girl cannot freely consent to such an act and is usually forced into it.        

Hopefully readers will be shocked out of complacency and indifference and not ignore the problem. It is our collective responsibility to fight for child rights. Reach for your keyboard and send an email to the following to get their attention and send them this article: House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco at [email protected] and Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III at [email protected]  

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

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