By Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid | Nov. 20th, 2021

A growing menace in our midst which had worsened with the onset of COVID-19 is sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Several initiatives include the “Save the Children Philippines” which focuses on drawing awareness on the online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC). It is a silent pandemic that should be addressed with great urgency, says Atty. Alberto Muyot, its chief executive officer who further notes that it could have a permanent and devastating effect on children’s mental health and psychosocial wellbeing. Cases of OSAEC in the country has increased by 264.6 percent or 202,605 during the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine from March to May 2020 as compared to the 76,561 cases during the same period in 2019.

This alarming state is the consequence of the deepening poverty caused by loss of unemployment during the lockdown when families were forced to resort to easy way of sourcing money. It was also that time when children were not allowed to leave their homes. Save the Children calls on parents, guardians and members of the community to strengthen the campaign against OSAEC by monitoring the strict implementation of R.A. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.

Another project launched in 2019 was SaferKidsPhCampaign, the Australian government-led consortium consisting of UNICEF, Save the Children Ph and The Asia Foundation, together with the Philippine government. It recognizes that awareness is the first step towards vigilance – that we must first understand and address the other drivers of online sexual exploitation besides poverty, which include accessible internet and smart phones, prevailing social norms, change in parenting dynamics due to migration, and ease in speaking English.

The third project, Kids and Teens Court Awareness Program is a collaborative effort between the Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma Foundation (JCMPF), the Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA), and Action Against Violence and Exploitation, Inc. (ACTIVE). The project was adopted by CPTCSA from the King County Kids Court of Seattle, to fit the Philippine context and aims to empower children who have been victims of exploitation and abuse to seek justice by asserting their rights and going through the legal processes. By helping children become aware of the court processes and their role in it, fear and misconception that inhibit them from testifying in court, are reduced.

The KTCAP project consists of a session, a one-day event, the first part of which deals with a discussion of the court system and children’s roles, talking about feelings, criminal procedure, people in courts, “what if” scenarios, relaxation techniques. Children are asked to prepare questions for the judge that are assessed in the afternoon session which is an exposure trip to the Regional Trial Court. Here, the children go around the court room, familiarize themselves with the physical set-up, and meet the people in the court. During that time, the judge serves as the resource person.

The sessions were held from March to December in 2019, 2020 and 2021 where 10 sessions each year were held in Quezon City and Marikina.

Annually, the program had reached a total of 403 child abuse victims and witnesses from Quezon City, Marikina, Manila, Muntinlupa, Malabon, Makati, Pasay, Pasig, Caloocan, Valenzuela, Baguio, Olongapo, Quezon Province, Cavite and Laguna.

For the next few years, this project and the continuing upgrading of the Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma High School in Payatas, will be priorities of the Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma Foundation(JCMPF), one of the project implementors.

Among the JCMPF’s programs and projects include the JCMP Museum (located at the Hall of Justice in Quezon City), legal education, voters’ education, and scholarships. It commemorated the 108th birth anniversary of the late justice on Nov. 22, yesterday with the unveiling of JCMP bust at the JCMP High School in Payatas, the launching of the JCMP High School Hymn, and a webinar, entitled “Sino si Palma: Knowing the Woman of Many Firsts.” Members of the JCMPF board of trustees are: Dr. Mina Gabor, chair, Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid, vice-chair,Corazon Alma de Leon, Dr. Chit Reodica,Com. Rene Sarmiento, Dr. Sonia Roco, Tadeo Palma, Pearl Palma-Cardema, Ballsy Aquino Cruz, Rep. Kit Belmonte, Atty. Rebo Saguisag, and Dr. Alice Lim, with Beth Baril, executive director, and Atty. Reena Yason, board secretary.

Originally Published in Manila Bulletin, November 20, 2021

Awareness-building for online sexual abuse of children