Sexuality education and children empowerment: A means to decrease child abuse in the Philippines

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By Jonathan Monis

Nathan is nurse, an epidemiology student, a health advocate and a geek.

Child abuse and neglect are prevalent but not given much attention. Only a few people understand the insidious consequences of these acts, and their long-term impact on behavior. According to a study conducted by McLean Hospital, there are certain types of brain damage associated with child abuse and neglect, with great implications on mental health that could last for a lifetime.

A friend has told me her story: how she was battered, and abused physically and mentally when she was a child. She had received cruelty from the same person she thought would instead care for her when in need and in pain. She has had flashbacks and nightmares since then,and those are typical any time she’s on a bed. She’s still haunted and scarred by her past experiences. At the time it was all happening, she didn’t know what to do and where to go. She even thought of ending her life just to put an end to her suffering.

From listening to her story, I know it’s really painful, but she’s truly the only person who fully understands the pain of what she went through.These experiences are the usual scenarios for a person who has experienced child abuse:they create damage that can’t easily be removed.
Unempowered and underempowered children and young people arethe major causes of child abuse. If we continue to ignore the importance of empowering them with their rights, the number of child abuse cannot be dramatically decreased.

Many Filipinos, particularly children, have inadequate knowledge about their rights and what really constitutes a child abuse case. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, child abuse is any act or series of acts of commission or omission by a parent or other caregiver that results in harm, potential for harm, or threat of harm to a child. It is usually divided into four categories: neglect, physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The inadequacy of knowledge limits the definition of child abuse to just physical harm and sexual harassment in the minds of mostpoeple, which has huge implications,particularly on the reporting and documentation of cases. In addition, child abuse is not taught in school. Hence, children are not informed about their rights and the signs of child abuse.

The culture of Filipinos is also seen as another culprit. Being Filipino is about having high power distance and being stoic. Having a high power distance means that, as a culture, we highly value and respect authorities or those with power. Their decisions and opinions are right and valuable. Defying authority is unacceptable, which implies that we should not talk back to elders or contradict them. The stoic aspect means we endure each pain and suffering as long as wecan. We keep our problems secret even though we are injured and abused, just to protect reputations.
Should we let it all go, or should we do something that will resolve these problems?

Though existing policies are being developed to protect the rights of children and address the aforementioned issues, I believe that the Reproductive Health Bill, when passed into law, will augment and provide a long-term contribution to the fight against child abuse.

One of the important features of the bill is Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). CSE will be integrated intoschool curricula and the Alternative Learning System (ALS) from grade 5 onwards. It aims to equip young Filipinos with soft skills and knowledge, which cover: values; gender; sexual and reproductive and rights (SRHR); HIV and AIDS; sexual citizenship; pleasure; violence; and diversity and relationships.

Teaching young people about the contexts of abuse will empower them to demand their rights when needed. This will educate them as well about the signs of abuse and what to do when abuse is suspected.

Empowering youth and children by providing them with knowledge about their rights will result stop the cycle of violence and abuse. We can also develop responsible future parents with an appreciation and an understanding of children’s needs and rights, along with gender diversity.
If we keep delaying the RH Bill, we’re also delaying these crucial measures necessary to fight child abuse.

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