Child protection is one of the most urgent and serious responsibilities of parents, children, the community, and the government. We celebrate the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this November. It establishes the right of every child to a life of peace and security, dignity, fulfilled needs, a happy family, education, freedom, protection from abuse and poverty, right to health, justice and play, and happiness. The Convention binds all member nations to respect and implement the rights of the child and act in the best interests of the child.
Before the Convention, the awareness and recognition that the child is the most vulnerable and needy, and the extent of child sexual abuse was unrecognized by the general public. It was the great secret never to be talked about, to be hidden like a pestilence behind closed doors. In many societies, it still is. Reporting of child sexual abuse is improving slowly but has a long way to go. It was and is taboo for many. It is the unspoken evil that, like a monster, would haunt anyone who talked about it. The best way to deal with child sexual abuse, rape, and sex slavery was to bury it away and cover it up. Perhaps pedophilia was and is so prevalent that society thought it of little consequence and still does. The pedophiles were and are in positions of power and can influence and condition the rest of society to remain silent. That is why the Convention is so important.
There is now awakening in society. Many nations have new strict laws and awareness. Children were taught to remain silent and never complain against adults even if they were abused. We heard the old strict caution given to children, “Silence is golden,” “Children could be seen but never heard.” Brave and courageous are the children that come forward and protest and complain. The #MeToo movement creates an environment where speaking out is encouraged. Why has it taken so long? Yet, it is only the tip of a great iceberg of silence that remains, freezing most in fear and shame. Our task is to warm the climate and help them unfreeze.
Millions of people went through school and college and were never warned against child sexual abuse is so prevalent. The Ten Commandments do not explicitly condemn it. Jesus of Nazareth did and placed children as the most important in the Kingdom and said abusers should be cast into the sea with a millstone tied around their necks (Matthew 18:1-7). He had it right and took a strong clear position on it. But that was ignored by Church leaders over the ages. Not surprising then that clerical sexual abuse of children was and is such a frequent crime that it was ignored and covered up. We have to stand against it and expose it everywhere.
A new educational curriculum in California will teach young children about their bodies and how to protect themselves Some parents reject such education as if children should not know they can be hurt and abused and must report it. They can and ought to be taught to do so. The LA Times reported, “Roughly 200 protesters showed up outside the state Capitol on Wednesday, some with their children in tow, holding signs that read “No to Explicit Sex Ed” and “Too Much Too, Soon.”
People in less progressive societies do not teach their children to resist abuse and report it. Some consider it even “permissible” for a man to do it. Pedophiles love the fear and silence that surrounds child abuse. It allows abuse with impunity. In India, a child is raped every 15 minutes.
In the Philippines, a child or woman is raped every 75 minutes and little is done to challenge the culture of silence About 80 percent or 32,000,000 children suffer from violence. Seven million of these children between the ages of 10 to 18 are sexually abused every year. Twenty percent or 1.4 million are under six years old. Boys are more likely to be raped, according to a UNICEF study. They will grow up with anger and hatred in their hearts and be more prone to be violent in their family or society and turn to crime and insurrection.
What do small children know and say about it? If given a chance, they will tell the powerful truth. In a recent court case in Olongapo City, a three-year-old girl, and her six-year-old sister, under the protection and care of the Preda Foundation, testified against their biological father. She clearly told the court what happened. “He poked his fingers into my “Pepe” (vagina). Then her six-year-old sister testified clearly and said she saw the rape happening and tried to pull her father off her little sister to no avail.
The judge, Judge Gemma Theresa B.Hilario-Logronio, said in her decision that the children were clear and consistent in their testimony. The children’s father was convicted to life in prison. This is a strong fearless judge that applies the law based on the clear testimony of the witnesses and with supporting medical evidence. A few weeks ago, she convicted another rapist, a live-in partner of the mother of a 13-year old child cared for by the Preda Foundation, and gave two sentences of life in prison.
Justice is powerful healing for victims of sexual abuse and just enlightened judges are an essential part of the healing process. We have to create an environment where children are empowered to come forward and tell their ordeal without fear, to a welcoming and supportive court and community. Creating this is the duty and moral obligation of all of us.