The Philippine government signed the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Law to protect Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (CSAC) on 14 June. The law contains provisions to protect children from the flow on effects of conflict. Not isolated from the impacts of conflict on children, an issue of significant magnitude affecting children in the Philippines is the commercial and online sexual exploitation of children (CSEC & OSEC). According to PLAN International, one out of five Filipino children suffer from sexual violence at home, or in the community, and 100 000 Filipino children are estimated to be brought into prostitution each year. A study commissioned by PLAN International revealed that high social media usage rates in the Philippines have meant the country is now a key source in the global child cybersex industry, with the crisis often fuelled by promises of wealth to children desperate to escape poverty and provide financially for their family.
Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, commended the Philippine government for signing the CSAC, stating the adoption of the law is “a milestone in closing a protection gap for boys and girls in the Philippines and I welcome the recent implementing steps and commend the commitment of the Government of the Philippines to further protect children”. UNICEF Representative a.i., Julia Rees, emphasized the need for a multi-level approach to resolve the issue. “One in three Internet users [in the Philippines] is a child. While the Government has been trying to respond to the demand, breadth, scope, and agility of the technology—not to mention the extreme accessibility of digital platforms—there must be more that we can do together to protect our children”.
Other initiatives introduced to tackle the issue include the National Response Plan to Address Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children, led by the DSWD Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography, and the Philippine Plan of Action to End Violence Against Children (PPAEVAC), led by the Council for the Welfare of Children. These, combined with the implementation of the CSAC, work to protect children from armed conflict, increase cyber-safe awareness amongst children, advocate for evidence-based parenting skills, enhance protective services for children, and build international cooperation. Gaps within these initiatives that must also be pursued by concerned parties are greater steps to alleviate chronic poverty, and amendments to the Anti-Rape Law of 1997.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) released a report in 2015 detailing that despite a growing Filipino economy, economic growth has not translated into poverty reduction with 21.6% of the Filipino population continuing to live below the National Poverty Line. Underemployment also remains high in the Philippines, with an 18-20 percent decade-long average between 2006-2015, while the Philippines continues to experience considerable corruption, receiving a 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index Score of 36 out of 100 by Transparency International. PLAN International is currently lobbying the government to amend the Anti-Rape Law of 1997 to increase the minimum age of sexual consent from the current 12 years old, centre lack of consent as the core of the definition of rape, enforce more effective prosecution of rape complaints, and introduce the use of video recording or electronic device during the commission of rape. These amendments were recommended in 2016, but thus far have not been made.
The implementation of the CSAC, the National Response Plan, and the PPAEVAC are promising steps toward reducing the effects of conflict on children, providing greater education to children, and creating greater cyber-safe awareness amongst children. However, the underlying issue of chronic poverty and a lack of well-paid jobs amongst the Filipino population must also be addressed to prevent the economic insecurities perpetuated by the vicious cycle of chronic poverty. Better allocation of state funds and the creation of better-paying jobs can help boost families’ financial security, placing less pressure on children to partake in CSEC, allowing them more time to attend school, obtain a better education, secure a well-paid job and exit the cycle of chronic poverty. If implemented, the amendments recommended for the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, will afford greater legal protection to children by criminalising acts perpetrated towards those under the age of 16, recognising a lack of ability for children to make an informed decision on their participation in CSEC, and prosecuting key instigators of CSEC thereby diminishing their ability to recruit more children.
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