Injustice and poverty causes child sexual abuse

By Fr. Shay Cullen 

The Philippines is a very rich country ruled by a rich elite of dynastic political families. Once they get into power, it is almost impossible to get them out and when they do fall from power, they have accumulated so many billions of dollars they have enough money to make a political comeback as we all know from recent history. This kind of faulty democracy where the hungry sell their votes for the candidate with the most money directly results in dire poverty.

The outcome of dire poverty is that mothers have to work abroad. Most of the two million overseas workers are women and many are mothers with children. Many more mothers stay behind and they work in the formal and informal sector doing house cleaning and laundry and as sidewalk vendors, street cleaners and vendors. They comprise 46 percent of the workforce.

This means they are away from their families while working and the children are left at home when not in school. That makes the children very vulnerable to child sexual abuse. In fact, some estimates say that as many as 7,000,000 children suffer some form of child sexual abuse in the Philippines every year. According to research on-line the “2022 Disrupting Harm Study” conducted by UNICEF, ECPAT International, and Interpol, 20 percent of Internet-using Filipino children aged 12-17 were subjected to online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC). They are part of the estimated 2 million children who have been victimized.

Lea is one of them. One evening, when she was only eight years old, she was watching television with her mother Junne. They were watching a program about teenage pregnancy. Her mother advised Lea that should anyone touch her inappropriately, she should immediately tell her mother about it. There and then, Lea broke down and suddenly cried, which alarmed her mother. Then Lea disclosed that her father Leo touched her private parts on numerous occasions. Outraged and angry, Junne confronted her partner about it but he denied everything. Junne then reported Lea’s disclosure to the barangay where they live (Calapacuan, Subic) and they were immediately referred to the local social worker. The local social worker realized that Lea was a sexually abused child at risk of being abducted and threatened by the partner if she made a formal complaint. She immediately referred Lea to the protection of Preda Home for Girls for healing to overcome the trauma.

In interviews with the Preda social worker, Lea disclosed that her father had raped and assaulted her five times. All incidents happened at night when her mother was away working on night shift and she and her siblings were left with their father. She did not tell anyone of the incidents earlier because he threatened to hurt her and her siblings. She had the powerful Emotional Release Therapy and cried and shouted at her father and punched the cushions as if punching him. She was fighting back. That released all the pent up hurt, shock and fear at the abuse of the father and his threats.

She became self-confident and empowered to file a criminal complaint against her father. She bravely testified and told all that had been done to her. Then she withstood the strict cross-examination by the defense attorney and in the end was believed by Judge Gemma Theresa Hilario-Logronio. Last 08 January 2024, Leo was found guilty and convicted for the rape and assault of his eight-year-old daughter and sentenced to life in prison. The Preda Foundation children achieve an outstanding average of 18 -20 convictions every year.

According to government statistics (but don’t blindly trust the figures as the poverty rate is likely to be a lot more) the inequality in the Philippines is among the worst in the world. Not only are 20 million in dire poverty, many are surviving on “pag-pag,” that is the leftover scraps from dinner plates in fine restaurants. The poor boil and eat them to live. There are about 19,000-dollar millionaires in the Philippines but by 2026 that will rise to 33,000, according to Statista.

Julie is the child of another overseas working mother from San Marcelino, Zambales. She was left with her half-brother Kevin when only seven years old and her mother went to work abroad due to poverty after she split up with her first husband. Julie was very vulnerable, unguarded and unprotected, and her half-brother Kevin began to sexually abuse her starting when he gave her a bath and began touching her private parts.

This continued for several years and when her mother returned, she worked for a rich family outside and the abuse continued until Julie finally told about the sexual abuse and Kevin was arrested and brought before the court. Julie testified to the abuse and he was convicted and jailed. There, he will not abuse any more children and hopefully repent and accept his penance. This is the second conviction for Preda children for 2024 and so long as the children are protected, supported, helped and empowered with therapy they will find the courage to bravely testify against their abusers.

Poverty is caused by the irresponsible rich who do not share their wealth to help end poverty and lift up the poor. It’s not wrong to earn money, it is how you earn it and use it. The corrupt rich use it to buy votes, pay bribes and corrupt others. They use dirty money for open-pit mining and destroy the environment and indigenous people. Other filthy rich use it for illegal logging and gambling, vice and murder. They exploit the poor and underpay workers in the plantations, farms, factories and sweatshops. Jesus said to them, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven! Indeed, it is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We are challenged to live a life of service to end suffering, poverty, sickness and hardship. We can do this by spending our money wisely to help others. The Good Samaritan not only bound up the wounds of the wounded man on the road himself, he shared his wine and oil and his transportation. He paid for the hospitalization and provided for the aftercare of the victim. We should do likewise and be good Samaritans to the abused and needy.