LGUs pressed to heighten anti-child abuse monitoring amid strict quarantine curbs


Senators pressed the Duterte government on Monday to step up stricter measures to monitor and effectively prevent child abuse cases during the extended Covid-triggered lockdowns.

This, as Sen. Risa Hontiveros raised an alert amid concerns that “child abuse and exploitation may increase” amid the imposition of stricter lockdowns around the Philippines due to the Covid-19 Delta variant.

Hontiveros, sitting chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, pressed local government units (LGUs) to “ensure channels are open and are readily-available to victims of sexual or physical abuse.”

The senator raised recurring concerns against abuse and exploitation of children inside the home as “more common than our society would like to admit.”

She added: “Iba’t ibang klase ng pang-aabuso ang nararanasan ng ating kabataan—sekswal man o pisikal—at kadalasan sa kamay pa ng mga indibidwal na pinagkakatiwalaan nila. Ngayong marami ang nakakulong ulit sa mga bahay, dapat talasan ng mga barangay at LGUs ang pagbabantay.”

Hontiveros cited findings by the Department of Health (DOH), Women and Children Protection Units in DOH-retained and LGU-supported hospitals reporting that sexual abuse cases (64 percent) are more common than physical abuses (17 percent).

Moreover, the senator noted other reports that incest rape was pegged at 33 percent, prompting her to suggest that LGUs must also be ready to provide psychosocial support should victim-survivors report abuse.

“Many cases of child sexual abuse happen within the domestic environment,” she noted, adding:  “It does not help that our country’s age of sexual consent is still at 12 years old, the lowest threshold in the world, and predators often use this as a loophole to get away with child rape. Hindi lang online sexual abuse of children ang pataas nang pataas ngayong pandemya, maaaring domestic sexual abuse of children ay pataas din,” the senator warned.

In addressing the menace earlier, Hontiveros principally sponsored passage of a law Raising the Age of Sexual Consent Act, embodied in Senate Bill 163 to raise the age of sexual consent from 12 years old to 18 years old.

She lamented that under Article 266-A of the Revised Penal Code and as stipulated in the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, statutory rape covers only children below 12 years old.

Hontiveros recalled that “our Revised Penal Code was enacted in 1930, but the provision on our age of sexual consent has not changed. That’s over 90 years of allowing child rape.”

The senator asserted that “this bill is a necessary step to make amends to every Filipino child. I look forward to Raising the Age of Consent Act’s passage, given the Senate’s commitment to support the measure.”

Hontiveros added: “Habang dumedepensa ang mga LGU sa komunidad at habang trinatrabahong mapasa ang pagpapataas ng age of consent, ang bawat mamamayan ay may responsibilidad din na siguraduhing walang bata ang nalalagay sa panganib.”

At the same time, Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian pressed for increased vigilance amid lingering concerns over “another potential surge in cases of violence against children” during the ECQ.

Citing data from the Philippine National Police (PNP), the children’s organization Save the Children flagged the increase of crimes committed against women and children during the imposition of ECQ last year.

It recalled that on April 30, 2020, 1,284 cases were recorded by the PNP, 521 against children and 763 against women. These figures increased dramatically to 3,600 crimes by June 4, 2020—1,745 against children and 1,945 against women.

Gatchalian had warned that economic hardship looming over families could again trigger a surge in domestic violence.

He added that due to the stricter quarantine measures, potential victims could face “a harder time seeking help.”

The senator recalled that when the lockdown was enforced last year, “we saw ballooning cases of violence against women and children.”

Gatchalian conveyed serious apprehensions that these cases are likely to be repeated if nothing is done to quell violence.

“Nanganganib na maulit ito kung hindi natin paiigtingin ang ating mga hakbang upang masugpo ang mga kaso ng karahasan,” warned Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.

At the same time, the senator asserted the “importance of sustained accessibility for help-lines” of the National Bureau of Investigation’s Violence Against Women and Children Desk and the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center.

Moreover, Gatchalian cited the role of barangays because of their proximity to victims, reminding that under the Protocol for Case Management of Child Victims of Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation by the Committee for the Special Protection of Children, barangays should put up help desks that monitor cases of child abuse and violence against women. Barangays are also tasked to coordinate with social workers, health officials, and women and children protection units to give intervention and assistance to the victims.

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