Rights groups call for a safer environment for children


MANILA – Half a million Filipino children were trafficked for the production of new child sexual exploitation material in 2022, according to rights groups.

Over the past 15 years, online child sexual abuse material surged by 15,000 percent, according to non-profit organization Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children.

Women’s group Gabriela attributed the exacerbating situation of violence against women and children to the decades of government neglect, and a result of the decades-long large-scale syndicate system.

“Online sexual abuse and exploitation of children and other forms of violence against women and children are not problems of women and children alone – they are issues that the entire Philippine society should address, specifically the government of Marcos Jr.,” said GABRIELA Secretary-General Clarice Palce.

The research also revealed that most of the victims in 2023 were aged between three to 12 years old.

Gabriela also underscored that the majority of the victims come from impoverished families in urban and rural areas, who lack opportunities for decent work and livable wages and do not receive social protection from the government.

“The Marcos Jr. government should, all the more, ensure the provision of services and take actions to address the escalating cases of VAWC amidst the worsening joblessness, inadequate wages, hunger, and poverty in the country. These conditions push people to resort to desperate measures to survive,” she added.

On top of sexual abuse, children in the rural areas also experience deliberate endangerment in conflict zones.

Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) said that children in far-flung areas are vulnerable to human rights violations as some of them were accused by government forces as child soldiers.

Just last year, children of the Fausto family, particularly Raben, 11, and Ben, 15, were red-tagged and massacred together with their parents on the night of June 2023 in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental. CRC attributed the massacre to the 94th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.

Similar cases can also be traced as far back as 2007 when Grecil Buya, nine, was labeled as a child combatant of the New People’s Army (NPA) by the 67th Infantry Battalion and was falsely accused of firing an M-16 rifle when she was killed in military operations in Compostela Valley.

“They later on retracted after investigations proved their claims untrue,” said CRC in a statement.

The same military rhetoric was used for the case of Jhun Mark Acto, 15, a grade 8 student at Ricardo L. Ipong National High School, who was killed in a military encounter on April 21, 2018. He was maliciously branded by the 39th Infantry Battalion and 2nd Scout Ranger Battalion as a child combatant.

Read: Mother laments soldier’s killing of her son, belies he was an NPA

“As an institution that caters to children in need of psychosocial support, we have heard the stories of many children who were affected by the militarization of their communities,” CRC said.

They emphasized that children from indigenous communities like the Lumad and other members of the national minorities are common victims of harassment, red-tagging, and worse, killing by state forces.

“These forces harass community leaders and organizers and label their children as child soldiers in efforts to silence their legitimate calls, especially amongst the indigenous people. Such actions cannot be allowed to continue as they endanger children and expose them to violence and trauma,” said CRC.

The second week of February saw the celebrations of the National Awareness Week for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation and the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, urging the government for concrete actions toward a safer environment for children.

“A child’s place is at school and at play, not staring down the barrel of a gun,” CRC ended. (RTS, RVO) (https://www.bulatlat.org)

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