The panel discussion “Ending Child Rape and Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Philippines” included representatives from Plan International Philippines, the Psychosocial Support and Children’s Rights Resource Centre, the Children’s Legal Bureau, Called to Rescue and Girls Got Game.
According to the study, Children and the Sex Trade in the Digital Age, launched last October by Plan International Philippines, the commercial sexual exploitation of the children continues to be prevalent and lucrative in the country with an estimated 100,000 cases of Filipino children trafficked into prostitution rings each year.
To make matters worse, the current law states that children as young as 12 are legally able to consent to sex. The Philippines also has the lowest age of sexual consent stated in its laws, compared to neighbouring countries in Asia where the minimum age is 16 or 18.
It was announced at this event that a bill is currently being drafted to raise the age of sexual consent to determine the grounds for statutory rape. Its passage is led by the Child Rights Network, which Plan International Philippines is a member of.
Protecting children from abuse
Elizabeth Protacio-De Castro, of the Psychosocial Support and Children’s Rights Resource Centre, shared that children at the age of 12 are not able to comprehend the meaning of consent and sexuality. She emphasised that should the age of sexual consent be kept this low, even more Filipino children will be at risk of exploitation and the lifelong effects that come with the traumatic experiences.
Everyone should play an important role in our fight against the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Meanwhile, Atty. Stephanie C. Tan of the Children’s Legal Bureau, Inc. said that should this new bill be passed, it will be able to provide those children at risk as well as those who are survivors of sexual violence and abuse, a more concrete form of protection when it comes to seeking justice in court.
It was emphasised however that the bill cannot stand on its own and that it must be complemented with a holistic form of care for those who have been rescued from the dangers of sexual exploitation as well as those at risk of being brought into it.
Trish Ayson of Girls Got Game mentioned the importance of rehabilitation after a traumatic experience. In her experience, she shared that children can be taken out of physical danger but allowing them to recover is just as important. At Girls Got Game, Trish encourages children to turn to sports after being exposed to trauma and abuse.
Apart from assisting rescue operations and raising awareness, Anthony Pangilinan of Called to Rescue also discussed how he takes it upon himself as a father to educate his children about these issues and talk about informed consent and sexuality to initiate the conversation within his own network.
“Everyone should play an important role in our fight against the commercial sexual exploitation of children,” mentioned Mr. Almocera of Plan International. “While the government can provide substantial support for recovery, peers and family members of victims can show support by creating a better environment at home.”
In partnership with the Girls Advocacy Alliance, Plan International pioneered #NotForSale last year, raising awareness on the issue and encouraging victims to speak up.