Working for justice for abused children

Seeking justice against the abusers is an important factor in the healing process
Working for justice for abused children

As many as 70 percent of children abused in their own homes end up in red light districts in the province of Zambales. (Photo by Vincent Go)

She was a very traumatized and broken 15-year-old child. She was raped and abused by her own father until she was rescued by social workers. Gina could have ended up as a human trafficking victim.

As many as 70 percent of children who have been abused in their own homes and end up on the streets are picked up by pimps and traffickers and sold into sex bars.

But Gina was saved before that happened. 

The weeks before June 2007, her own father raped her repeatedly. Her mother left Gina and her two siblings with the unemployed father while she worked as a domestic worker in the city.

This is the situation of many families when mothers work away from home. The children are left unprotected and vulnerable.

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Gina was welcomed in her new home, the Preda Home for abused children. There, she was given affirmation and support and was helped to feel safe and secure. 

The young girl underwent emotional expression therapy over several months and brought out all her anger and pain. She had extensive counseling. She gave her life testimony and joined in group activities.

At Preda, the children undergo values training, children's rights education, art, sports, discussions, and outings. These are all part of the center's human development program. 

The support and encouragement and care Gina received made her a strong person and instilled in her a desire for justice. She was empowered to file a case against her father. A court accepted her testimony, and the conviction was handed down on Dec. 8, 2016, seven years after it was filed.

Such a long delay in justice is not unusual in the Philippines. It is detrimental to due process, both for the accused and the victim. 

Although it took seven years, for Gina, justice was done.

In recent years, Marlyn, 12, and Pia, 9, were found on Boracay Island with two foreign tourists, a German and a Dutchman. The girls were referred to the Preda Home for girls. The abusers were jailed in the Philippines, but managed to escape and get out of the country.

The girls were recovering at Preda, which pursued a case against the two abusers. We went to a prosecutor in Iserlohn, in Germany and made a formal complaint on behalf of the two children.

After some months, the case against one of the suspects was filed in court. The judge invited the girls to go to Iserlohn and testify in court. It was one of the very first cases against child abusing tourists under Germany's extra-territorial law. 

In Germany, justice was swift. Within a week of hearings, the judge reached a verdict. Guilty. But the jail sentence was only two and a half years. The story was widely reported in the German media, and proposals to increase jail terms for crimes against children were approved.

In 2013, a raid on a sex club in Subic, several kilometers north of Manila, rescued several young girls who were victims of human trafficking. The owner of the club was an American national. He was arrested and is still in jail. 

The raid was accomplished with the help of Preda social workers and retired Australian police who posed as sex tourists. They were able to gather information about the ages of the minors and identified some of the customers. The minors gave their testimony and the case is still ongoing. Justice is very slow.

Any attempt at bringing abusers and traffickers to justice will only be successful if victims are kept safe, healed, and empowered. It helps curb impunity and serves as a deterrent against child abuse. It is vital to the healing process.

Seeking justice is an important part of healing. Some well-intentioned people and religious may attempt to persuade a child to forgive the abuser and not pursue a case. This is misguided. 

The abuser ought to be persuaded to repent, confess the crime, and accept penance, that is, jail time. 

What is amazing about victims of abuse is their resilience. They are scarred but they can recover, be empowered, and make a good life for themselves.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

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