By Fr. Shay Cullen
The horrific crime of child sexual abuse is a shockingly common practice almost everywhere in the world. It was and is tolerated but seldom talked about other than in jokes and snide comments alluding to the practice by suspected pedophiles or when a court conviction is reported. It is increasing and child sex tourists are still coming to the Philippines to abuse our children. Few are ever convicted.
The online sexual abuse by relatives of small children has made the Philippines the shameless hub of such child abuse monitored by international police agencies. The foreigners abuse online and then come to abuse Filipino children in person like what Irish media producer Kieran Creaven did. He came to physically abuse the children he paid to be abused online. He was arrested in the UK when caught soliciting a child there for sex abuse.
US national Donald A. Stenson, 67, was jailed recently for 10 years in the United States. He had been coming to the Philippines since 2007 to sexually abuse children as young as 11 to 17 and videoed himself doing it until 2019.
His friend, John Burgdorff, 66, came with him and together they abused more children. He was jailed in November 2022 in the USA for two and half years for abusing children in the Philippines. A tip-off by CyberTipline to the US government, Project Safe Childhood, led to their arrest.
Philippine government officials must implement Republic Act 11930 or the Anti-online Sexual Abuse Law. It mandates the telecommunication corporations to install blocking and detecting software on their servers to catch the criminals. But they have not done this effectively ever. They just monitor websites with information from UK-based Internet Watch. Seemingly they don’t care.
There is only a small Philippine anti-cyber-sex investigation police unit for online investigation. They are almost totally overwhelmed by the task of detecting and finding the abusers. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has to offer larger rewards for genuine information and catch the abusers and rescue the victims.
Strong-minded, dedicated Filipino prosecutors are resisting pressure and sent an accused pedophile priest to jail recently, the first time in Philippine history, some believe. Catholic priest Father Karole Reward Ubina Israel is jailed awaiting trial for multiple acts of child rape and sexual assault and videotaping the abuse. He is a cousin of the father of the victim, call her Angelica, making him the uncle of the victim. He was arrested by NBI Agent Atty. Jonimar Tongdo. It is the first time a priest is likely to be convicted. He admitted the acts of abuse but says they were consensual. He was also blackmailing the child with the videos so that likely negates his defense. May justice be done and may many more victims come forward and seek justice.
Some relatives that abuse their children online for money say it’s just harmless play because there is no touching of the child victims by the pedophiles online. But just ask the abused victims to tell their story as in this video broadcast in the EU recently.
Millions of children were sexually abused and ignored. The churches turned the other way, too, and tolerated it. Bishops passed pedophile priests from parish to parish when complaints by parents and children were made. They still do despite the strict instruction of Pope Francis to report them to the civil authorities. Payments are made to have the complaints withdrawn. That is always evidence of guilt. Angelica was allegedly offered a college scholarship by the diocese to withdraw her complaint against her uncle, Father Israel.
Child sexual abuse is now finally recognized as a heinous crime that causes life-long suffering and destruction of the person if not afforded therapy. Now, it is statutory rape to sexually abuse a 16-year old and younger child and that carries a life sentence.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which this writer was a delegate to the drafting conference held in Helsinki, Finland, called for new laws protecting children and punishing child sex abuses. Many countries have passed child protection laws and in the Philippines, 37 are on the statute books. They are implemented by just judges and the children at the Preda Foundation home for abused children win an average 18 convictions yearly. In 2022, they won 21 convictions. That is due to the powerful healing and empowering effect of Emotional Release Therapy. Most of the 80 children in care and protection are abused by a relative such as a mother in online abuse or the biological father, grandfather, or live-in partner of the mother. These are followed by pedophiles and traffickers.
The practice of sex with children has been institutionalized in some indigenous communities. Among the Aetas, a chieftain can have multiple “wives,” many of them children as revealed by the Aeta teachers that exposed the practice by a chieftain and they rescued the young child, Weng-Weng, 14. She was found “married” at 14 by Preda social and development workers that visit the villages implementing projects to help the Aeta indigenous people to better themselves. She was given,like a piece of property, to a 27-year old for two piglets and half a cavan or 25 kilos of rice. That was one of many deals made by families in remote indigenous villages in Zambales over the years, we are told by social workers. Weng-Weng was pregnant, at 14 years old, a child having a child by custom ignored by the authorities. She was rescued, taken into care, had her baby and started studying .That is her life-long dream.
The new law Republic Act No. 11596, banning every arrangement called “child marriage” became law in December 2022. “The issue of child early and forced marriages is ….. a tragic reality for scores of young girls who are forced…. to shelve their own dreams, begin families they are not ready for, and raise children even if their own childhoods have not yet ended,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, the bill’s author and sponsor, after the vote.
The arrangement of so-called “child marriage” was in fact legalized pedophilia and human trafficking. The government and society and the church has silently condoned this practice for centuries. In the Philippines the age of consent for sexual intercourse was 12 until 2022.The law was changed by the persistent lobbying of child rights groups. In the United States, laws still allow men to have sex with children lawfully. In 40 states “marriage with a minor is allowed provided there is parental or judicial consent and approval.
So enough money can buy a “child bride.” In this regard, the Philippines is now a more advanced nation but only since 2022.
May we unite to give children a life free from abuse and exploitation and with freedom and education, justice and happiness.