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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

The Philippines must accelerate efforts to save its abused children

A group of women and children hold up placards during a protest against child abuse outside the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila in this file photo

A group of women and children hold up placards during a protest against child abuse outside the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila in this file photo (Photo: AFP)

Published: February 26, 2024 04:44 AM GMT
Long delays in family courts cause child victims and relatives to give up and abandon the justice system

On Feb. 22, during the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Preda Foundation that works to save abused children, a concept paper proposed new legislation for a children’s court and therapeutic residential homes for sexually abused children to Senator Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality.

The idea for a children’s court and residential therapeutic homes was first discussed briefly with Senator Risa Hontiveros by Preda President Francis Bermido and founder Father Shay Cullen some time last year.

The Philippine congressional people now realize that more must be done to deliver justice for abused children. There is an urgent need for legislation establishing the Children’s Court System and more government-funded therapeutic homes for healing and empowering child victims of abuse.

UNICEF says 7 million Filipino children are abused every year in the Philippines, that is about one for every three girls. Boys too are victims, one for every four on average, is a victim of abuse. They are more reluctant to report being sexually abused which they have to accept as a common practice among males.

At present more family courts are being established but competently-trained judges are in short supply and the family courts are overwhelmed with the many cases. They are clogged with other less important cases and while they prioritize child sexual abuse cases, they can finish a case in about nine months to one year. In other courts it can take up to three years.

That is a long time for a child to wait for justice and they lose hope and trust while waiting. The many postponements requested by defense lawyers and the absence of some judges and prosecutors delay the hearings spaced two or three months apart.

The long delays in some family courts cause the child victims and supportive relatives to give up and they abandon the justice system. This eventually will undermine the rule of law as child abusers take heart when they hear child victims cannot wait such a long time for justice.

The best judges seldom or never allow postponements in child abuse cases. We need more like that for sure. With a secure residential therapeutic home, the victims are healed and can overcome the trauma and are empowered so they can testify clearly.

They can remember the details of the abuse more clearly and are strong and not disturbed during cross-examination. That is why a speedy, fast-moving trial is essential and a residential home necessary to protect the child victim.

When in the community, the child is all the more vulnerable to threats and intimidation not to attend the court or they are hidden away in a remote province so they will not testify. This is seemingly what happens in Cebu courts.

The five judges in Cebu met last year with the Preda to establish a new children’s home to protect and empower the abused-complaining witnesses. All too often, the cases are dismissed because the child victim does not attend the hearing.

It is only when justice is strictly implemented and abusers are convicted according to law, will the Filipino population realize the enormity and frequency of this crime that is committed in secrecy. Then parents will realize that leaving their child alone with a live-in partner or even the father, it can be an occasion for child sexual abuse.

Everybody has to protect children from abusers in the family and community. When convictions are swift, clear, and without reasonable doubt then respect for the rights of the child and the law will grow. They will fear the penalty of the law.

During her visit to the Philippines, Mama Fatima Singhateh, the UN special rapporteur for online child abuse and child trafficking and domestic child abuse, strongly advised that the Philippines pass a law to set up a special children’s court.

This is needed to hear child abuse cases exclusively. The establishment by law of accredited processing therapeutic healing centers for victims of child abuse is very necessary for seeking justice and giving protection and healing.

The Philippines sadly is considered the hub for online child sexual abuse and why the UN special rapporteur called for new legislation. This abuse online is due to local and international pedophiles who have perverted demands to have child sex shows for their sexual gratification and pleasure.

Without curbs and blocking of live-streaming sex shows with children, the abusers go on abusing children online mostly without detection. It is a massive problem, but there are strong AI-driven software programs that can detect and block such abuse and identify the perpetrators but they are not installed on Internet Server Providers (ISPs) servers.

However, while the law demands they should, they are too powerful and well-connected to actually implement and follow the law. The question is who has the power and political will to make PLDT, Globe, Smart, and DITO obey law RA11930 which aims to protect children from such abuse.

The ISPs claim immunity from lawsuits because of the US Communication Decency Act of 1995. The US passed this law that has Section 230 that allows anybody to post or transmit what they like through the servers of the ISPs. The social media platform companies claim that they are immune from prosecution and criminal liability. However, not in the Philippines. They are required to filter and block the illegal content under RA11930 but they seldom do it effectively.

It seems without a special children’s court and protective healing homes and strict implementation of the law, children will go on being abused and continue to suffer. We will continue to save and heal and get justice for the victims of abuse under the present system and work with Congress to get a better delivery of justice.

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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