Sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a major problem in the Philippines, hence the decision to declare the second week of February as the annual National Awareness Week for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation. Despite this, sexual abuse and exploitation remains widely unreported because of the shame and trauma associated with these violations of child rights.

Based on studies, children are most likely to be sexually abused or exploited by someone they know and trust, or someone who is in a position of authority. Such cases also frequently occur within the privacy of one’s home, making timely detection and reporting less likely. Current statistics tell a similar story, as one out of every five Filipino children end up as victims of different forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. [1] In 2014 to 2017 alone, cases of sexual abuse of children online rose by 250% from around 23,000 to 81,000, based on a study by the International Justice Mission (IJM). [2]

Given the Philippine context, children’s vulnerability to violence, including sexual abuse and exploitation, has most likely increased during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, for example, the Department of Justice (DOJ) cybercrime unit reported a surge in cases of sexual exploitation of children online between March 1 and May 24 — a timeline that corresponds with the onset of lockdowns across the country. [3]

While government institutions undergo reforms needed for them to effectively carry out the delicate and necessary task of holding abusers accountable to existing laws, there is also a need for all sectors to be involved in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse in the first place. We must collectively protect and empower children by assuring them that their voices are heard and taken seriously, while affirming their freedom to express pain and discomfort without the fear of being ignored or forgotten. 

Only then can we actively secure the safety and welfare of children in the Philippines, as we continue to work on reporting and response mechanisms towards ending child sexual abuse and exploitation.