In 1990, the Philippines ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and adopted several laws to protect and promote human rights. However, despite a legal environment favorable to establishing public policies, implementation is slow and unequal, which is why it is so urgent to establish local programs to prevent, protect and rehabilitate. This is what CAMELEON Philippines has undertaken for the last 17 years, in the province of Iloilo on Panay Island in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines.
47,5% of Filipinos live on less than €1.52/day
1/3 of the population is less than 14 years old
1,5 million million children are not in school
1,5 million million children live in the streets
28 children are arrested and imprisoned each day
Report on Filipino children’s situation by AKAP-Bata Partylist, 2012
Word Factbook 2013; Transparency International, UN, US State Department.
Sexual abuse of children
In the Philippines, 100 000 children are victims of sexual abuse each year.
Over 50% of the abused children are between 10 and 18 years old. Among the victims, one in four is a less than 5 years old. After abandonment and neglect, sexual abuse of children is the most common case treated by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Despite the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, the highest incidence of sexual abuse is still rape, followed by incest and inappropriate touching. 98% of rape victims are women. The 33% incest rate remains equally alarming.
The majority of commercially sexually exploited children are victims of prostitution or pornography. While the overall number of cases taken by the DSWD has gone down, the number of child prostitution cases has slightly increased. Most of the time, it is very difficult to establish a clear picture of the situation, and even more difficult to intervene in a scenario where the bars, prostitution networks and sex tourism are run by influential politicians or individuals (both local or foreign) who are often connected to other criminal networks (drugs, arms trafficking). While the total number of reported cases of cyber pornography is relatively low, the number of actual cases could be much higher if victims were able to file a complaint or ask for assistance from social services. The same applies for child prostitution, sexual abuse and incest. Cyber prostitution is more and more common in the Philippines, whether in urban or rural areas.
Young girls, primary victims of poverty and exclusion
98% of sexual abuse victims are girls.
The Philippine Council for the Welfare of Children (PCWC), in partnership with UNICEF, published a report in 2008 showing that young girls are the primary victims of sexual abuses. Victims of commercial sexual exploitation are predominantly girls aged 13 to 18, with the youngest girls prostituted by age 10. Under-age girls are the most likely to be infected by STDs and HIV/AIDS. They are also victim of illegal recruitment (especially girls from rural areas), and suffer from sexual discrimination: lack of schooling, labor, prostitution etc.
Year after year, these trends remain unchanged, and the situation has even deteriorated. It is directly linked to a culture of discrimination towards girls and women in Filipino society and a lack of services and equipment to take care of (pre)adolescents, especially girls living in the streets and victims of abuse.
A few key facts to understand
Statistics represent merely the tip of the iceberg, since they are only based on cases reported to the police or other relevant authorities, and not on the actual number of cases. The big challenge lies with all of these non-reported cases that raise the numbers to even more worrying levels. The silence of the victims is intrinsic to the Filipino culture, as it is shameful to report incidents that would “tarnish” the family’s reputation. This is particularly the case regarding incest.
Children’s vulnerability can be explained by factors such as poverty, the influence of alcohol or drugs, gender inequality, the parents look upon their children (they can be considered as property, without opinions, rights or freedom), and the lack of education (especially sexual education). Extreme poverty often causes tensions between family members who – often themselves victims of abuse in their past – trivialize sexual abuse on children in the household. The influence of alcohol and drugs – cited in one out of four cases – is another major contributing factor in domestic violence.
In most cases, the perpetrators of rape are the Filipino children’s fathers or uncles. These men, generally between the ages of 30 and 40, typically do not have regular jobs. Most of the reported cases of incest took place at home when the victim was alone with the perpetrator.
Despite their significant responsibilities in the household, Filipino women generally have little decision-making power. Men are considered the dominant sex, holding the power in the household – and this in turn exacerbating gender inequality. While many mothers take on a submissive and dependent role, girls are more vulnerable to and often victims of abuse. In Filipino culture, family morals remain private and children are expected to keep quiet rather than report crimes that could cause scandal or emotional devastation among relatives. This culture of silence contributes to persistent sexual abuse in the country and is adopted by the victims who submit and suffer without saying a word.
Among young victims, the lack of general and sex education is cited as the reason why two out of three children do not report the crime – they do not understand they have been raped. This hardship is strengthened by the abuse itself being caused by the very people whom the children trust and go to for protection.