Pastoral  Letter on the Exploitation of Children

The presence of  children in the Filipino family is always a source of immense joy  to its members.  Children are always welcome; they serve to  unite the family.

The love for children has always been part of Filipino culture and traditions. A happy Filipino home is one with children.  Our loving regard for children also explains our strong devotion to the Santo Niño whose images and statues are prominently displayed in our homes and offices.  Parish celebrations rarely take place without children in them.  Schools are always full in enrollment.  Our streets are ever lively with the sound and sight of children playing.

REALITY OF THE ABUSE OF CHILDREN

This beautiful and joyful scene, however, has been marred by the sad reality of child neglect and child abuse, be it child labor or sexual abuse.  We face the sinister phenomenon of children seen, not as precious gifts of God to be cared for and attended to with affection, but as commodities for labor and sexual gratification.

The exploitation of children for labor has spawned worldwide reaction. Recently we witnessed the  launching of a “global march” to draw more attention to the illegal  use of children  for labor.  To date, it is said that about 250 million children worldwide are forced to work in mining quarries, factories, market places, amid unhealthy and   unsanitary  conditions. These children are being deprived of proper education and the enjoyment of life that is due to them at this young stage of their life.  In our country, there are about 3 million child laborers.  Possibly right in our neighborhood and  communities are cases of child labor, but we find ourselves helpless in taking  them out of their pitiable state.

More repulsive and abhorrent perhaps than the use of children to satisfy business greed is their sexual abuse. Of the 4,105 reported cases of child abuse in 1996, 75 per cent  were sexual in nature. Sixty per cent of these sexual abuse cases involved  incest.    Children are also sold into sex through the now flourishing trade of child prostitution that has attracted foreign tourists seeking satisfaction for their perversions.    It is claimed that as many as 60,000 Filipino children are involved in the sex trafficking of children.  An adjunct practice has resulted from this unwanted industry: child pornography.

SINCERE CONCERN IN THE EXAMPLES OF THE LORD

The abuse of children is a grave and serious concern  for all, but most especially for us in the Church.  Our voices cannot be loud enough, our words strong enough to condemn this evil among us.   The cries of abused children reach up to the God of justice in a call for vengeance.  We know that their  lament invokes compassion from the God of love.  In an invitation of love, our Lord Jesus says “whoever welcomes a child for my sake welcomes me” (Mt. 18:5). And to those who inflict pain and wound the innocent, our Lord has harsh words: “It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck in the depths of the sea” (Mt. 18:6).  Children are so precious in the eyes of Jesus that for him, they and those like them comprise the Kingdom of God.  Whoever serves as a stumbling block to them deserves reproach and equally just punishment.

TRACING THE ROOTS OF THE SOCIAL MALADY

Clearly the exploitation of children is a morally deplorable and criminal act.because of the immense damage, oftentimes irreparable, it brings to children  Exploitation robs children the dignity of life, the enjoyment of life that is their inherent right  It deprives them of education that could secure for them a stable future.  Children who have been sexually abused suffer the pain and trauma of their experience throughout their lives and are vulnerable to more abusive behaviour and relationships later on in life.

As a social phenomenon, the exploitation of children in the Philippine context can be traced mainly to poverty.  In the film documentary “Minsan Lang Sila Bata” which was co-produced by the Archdiocese of Manila Labor Center,this poverty was starkly portrayed: squalid homes,meager food, sickness. In this film, we see children as young as seven to 10 years old doing strenuous manual work in abattoirs, cargo boats and sugar cane fields.  The children in the film spoke poignantly of how they wished to be in school. They expressed their desire to help their families and bring them out of the cycle of poverty.

This condition of poverty has emboldened unprincipled employers and moneyed foreign  pedophiles to use children. Incest and rape, on the other hand, have been known to breed most in environments marked by unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and the lack of proper and decent housing.  These pressing concerns demand immediate attention and concerted response from all sectors, if the problem of sexual abuse of children is to be addressed in a comprehensive manner.

ACKNOWLEDGING SECTORAL EFFORTS TO CURB EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN

It is worthwhile to note that  there have already been worthwhile efforts to address this problem.

We acknowledge the painstaking efforts of the government agencies such as DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) to protect the dignity and rights of abused children.  We give credit to police agencies for the successful apprehension of  those engaged in the promotion and practice of  pedophilia and child prostitution.  We commend non-government organizations dedicated to the promotion of children’s welfare and to the protection of children’s rights.  We commend those in the media who bring cases of child abuse to national and international attention with sensitive and respectful regard for the dignity of children. Also, their “Bantay-Bata” project  and other similar undertakings have yielded favorable results. We laud the efforts of  parents’ and civic groups that are working to prevent abuse of children and to help those who have become victims of child abuse. Lastly, we take note of the work of religious organizations and communities of faith,  in the parish, diocesan, and national level, to promote and protect children’s rights.  We see that much have been done but  a lot more has to be done to finally eradicate the pernicious practice of child abuse from our midst.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR UNIFIED ACTIONS

As pastors, we  appeal to various sectors for the comprehensive and concerted approach to solving this problem:

  1. To the government:
    • to allot bigger budget funds for the proper education of children, especially in the elementary and secondary education;
    • to enact just laws and strictly enforce their implementation to bring to justice the perpetrators of child exploitation;
    • to initiate and coordinate the activities of various government agencies for  the support of families through decent housing, and to provide assistance and care to victims of child abuse;
  2. To the NGOs and the media:
    • to maintain their vigilant attitude and steady pursuit of actions in cases of  exploitation of children;
    • to coordinate their  efforts in contributing to the proper education of children through the media;
    • to continue with their creative use of communications to bring to the attention of society and its leaders, the abuse of children.
  3. To  the Schools:
    • to impart solid education to children on the values of life and family life;
    • to live up to the task of bearers of truth and justice, and not to be coerced by anti-life programs, even though they may be sponsored by government funds.
    • to be mindful of situations affecting their students that lead to their exploitation and abuse.
  4. To the Families (parents and members):
    • to live up to the values of truth, justice and good, and not to be easily swayed by unscrupulous media propaganda nor be threatened by factors of social influence, and financial needs by all means and at all costs.
    • Not to hesitate in seeking social, legal, and financial assistance from the State, NGOs and the Church, as far as their fields of competence allow.
  5. To the victims of abuse:
    • to reach out in confidence to persons and groups for support and assistance in healing the wounds and scars in their lives;
    • to open themselves up to experience God’s saving love through the Sacraments, especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist;
    • to speak out in courage (with the support of their families and friends) against perpetrators of injustice and exploitation
  6. To the Church communities:
    • to extend legal, financial and expert psychological assistance to victims of child exploitation by organizing desks in parishes and dioceses including the publications of names and telephone numbers of contact persons in parish or diocesan bulletins;
    • to include issues of child abuse as a current social concern in the existing Family Apostolate Programs, in Pre-Cana and Post-Cana conferences and Marriage Encounter Programs;
    • to organize home care programs for street children or orphaned and abandoned children;

Where child exploitation tends to drive children away from the path of goodness and dignified lives, Jesus, the son of God who himself became a child like any of us, endearingly invites each one:  “Let the children come to me…  the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mt. 19:14).

May Mary, His Mother and our Mother, through her intercessions make us experience her maternal love for all of us.  As brothers and sisters in Her Son, we need only to promote each other’s well-being in justice and love.

For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
+OSCAR V. CRUZ, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
President, CBCP

31 January 1998

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