Three years ago, UNICEF identified an estimated 100,000 victims of sexual exploitation in the Philippines, dubbing it “the global epicenter of the live-stream sexual abuse trade.”
A few more statistics:
• One in five children in the Philippines have experienced sexual violence (National Baseline Study on Child Violence).
• Eight in 10 children are at risk of online abuse and bullying (Perils and Possibilities: Growing Up Online UNICEF 2016).
• And one in three sexual trafficking victims are children (Global Report on Trafficking in Persons UNODC 2016).
While a number of laws have been passed to protect this vulnerable sector —including the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 (RA 9775) and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act (RA 7610) — a top-down approach to tackling sexual exploitation can only do so much.
That’s because at the root of this problem is the reality that sexual exploitation has found fertile grounds in both the lack of understanding and the culture of silence that permeate sensitive issues like this.
This is further aggravated by rampant poverty, which forces many victims into prostitution to make ends meet. Most harrowing is the fact that many of these children fail to fully grasp the situation they’ve been placed in.
Last Thursday (March 7), just ahead of International Women’s Day, development and humanitarian organization Plan International Philippines launched Face Your Peers, a new education guide for young Filipinos to help their peers learn more about the reality of commercial sexual exploitation and how to tackle it.
Developed with partners under the Girls Advocacy Alliance, the Department of Justice, and the social welfare and development office of Tacloban City, this guide book includes modules on the local sexual abuse landscape, training activities, and guidelines on handling disclosures and reporting exploitation cases in communities.
According to Pauline De Guzman, Plan International PH’s campaigns and advocacy specialist, these modules were designed to not only equip society’s most vulnerable sector, “but more importantly create an environment that is supportive to the protection and prevention of children being abused and exploited.”
The Face Your Peers program was initially piloted in Valenzuela, Pampanga, and Tacloban, and is set to roll out to local government units across the country this month. While the guide book was developed in English, Plan International is currently working on local language translations of their modules.
Also present during the launch of this guide book were Meggie Ochoa, Filipino Jiu-Jitsu World Champion and long-time advocate of martial arts as a means to empower the youth to fight against sexual violence. Marianne Dorothy, sixteen-year-old cadet scout with the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, represented Plan International’s peer educators as one of the program’s recent young graduates.
“I can attest that this peer education campaign can really help us end the sexual exploitation problem in our country,” said Dorothy. According to her, cases of sexual abuse are rarely reported to authorities, instead confided to the victim’s friends who may not know how to help. “I believe that we should encourage the youth to communicate, not just talk, comprehend not just listen.”
“We should equip the youth with the knowledge and power, so they can protect themselves and their peers from abuse,” she said. “When you’re working with your peers, you know you’re not alone. And that’s the message we need to send the youth — that they aren’t alone in their dire situations.”
The Face Your Peers guide book will be available on Plan International Philippines’ official website, free for download this month of March.