The comprehensive protection of children must be anchored on accurate information about threats they face.
At the Ako Para Sa Bata 2015: Cyberprotection of Children, many of the discussions revolved around threats found online.
In her presentation, Dr. Sandra Hernandez, child protection specialist from the Philippine General Hospital-Child Protection Unit, highlighted a critical gap: the absence of a comprehensive, nationwide survey on violence against children. But in the plenary talk on December 2, UNICEF’s Lotta Sylwander informed participants that such a survey is currently underway. Sylwander presented the preliminary findings.
Violence against children (VAC) is a universal problem that occurs in schools, homes and communities. It affects children of all ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. Different studies show that violence is on the rise—a fact that Sylwander shared.
The global picture
Many studies show that VAC has devastating and life-long impacts, including life-long physical and mental health problems. Victims can never rid themselves of the trauma.
VAC takes many forms. Neglect is one form of violence, as it can also impair the human being. Other forms include: physical and emotional discipline, sexual abuse, bullying, child marriage, child labor, trafficking and armed violence.
Sylwander said, “Rapid access to new tech has brought new possibilities, new risks, through virtual world, through the internet, to contacts who will lead to abuse. Protecting children from online abuse is an urgent and global issue.” Sylwander called for all present to work towards ending VAC in all life settings.
VAC in East Asia and Pacific Region
In 2012, the UN published a review of research on child maltreatment. They found that its effects include negative physical health, negative mental health, high-risk sexual behaviors and increased exposure to violence later in life.
In 2015, research estimated that the cost of VAC was US$ 209 billion. Those were costs incurred in terms of lost development, hospital costs for treatment, and social costs in the life of the home and the community. In comparison, Typhoon Yolanda cost the Philippines US$ 3.5 billion.
Sylwander shared that the Philippines among four countries, along with Indonesia, Laos, and Cambodia, with a detailed national survey on VAC. She pointed out that these four countries have committed to a robust response plan once findings of the UNICEF survey are released.
Preliminary findings from National Baseline Study on VAC in PH
In her talk, Sylwander shared the preliminary findings from the research, with the caveat that the data had not been interpreted yet, and that the findings would be released in 2016. She said that the preliminary findings fit a pattern in Asia, but does not match up with the rest of the world. The age range of the study was among youth aged 13 to 24.
- The survey found that physical violence was the most common form of VAC, with an overall prevalence of 65%. Physical violence would occur most often in child’s home. The age range of 13 to 17 years would experience the most physical violence.
- The survey also found that boys were the most common victims of physical violence in the home. There was also a significantly higher prevalence for physical violence to be inflicted on boys, in both schools and communities, compared to girls.
- The perpetrators of physical violence were most often parents, at 38%, with no significant difference between mothers and fathers. Siblings were the next most common perpetrators, with brothers at 13% and sisters at 8%.
- The survey found that psychological violence most commonly occurs in the home, with schools coming in second. Prevalence was similar for boys and girls. That would change “during dating,” however, where 17% of boys would experience psychological violence, compared to girls at 9%.
- Children in the 13 to 17 year age range would experience the most sexual violence, including forced sex and penetrative sex. Sylwander confessed she was surprised to find that boys would experience more sexual violence than girls, and that boys were more likely than girls to be victims in any setting.
- She was also surprised to learn who perpetrated sexual violence. Siblings were usually the perpetrators, with brothers at 10% and sisters at 7%. Parents and step-parents were the second most common perpetrators, with cousins coming in third at 8%.
- Sylwander reported a high prevalence of both physical and emotional bullying, at 63%. The survey found a higher prevalence of bullying among girls.
- The prevalence of cyberbullying among Philippine children is nearly 50%. 32% of boys and 19% of girls have been shown photos or videos of sex organs or sexual activities.
Online child exploitation
- The survey found that 50% of cybercrimes involve the online sexual abuse of children. Many of the hubs were in the deep web.
The Philippines is one of the top ten countries worldwide with rampant child online exploitation involving boys and girls aged 10 to 14 years. To make things worse, parents are often the perpetrators of these crimes. Their rationale is that it’s not child abuse, because the child isn’t being touched. They reason that the child is just doing what someone is telling them what to do.
At the forefront of response
Despite such a grim picture, Sylwander said that the government of the Philippines must be commended for implementing a comprehensive approach to child online protection. She cited the country’s strong legislation, including tough penalties for perpetrators of the worst crimes. She also mentioned that there is a joint commitment between UNICEF and the Philippine government to prevent online child abuse.
Sylwander emphasized, “Children must be part of the solution,” citing as an example the youth conference organized by the Child Protection Network prior to APSB 2015. In October 2015, youth delegates from around Cebu gathered in the Shift-CTRL-Del: Cyber Teens Responsible Leaders conference, and learned how to recognize and combat cyberbullying.
Sylwander also shared the UNICEF global program to address exploitation in 17 countries: the #WePROTECT model is a multi-sectoral prevention and response plan that involves agencies across different nations in the fight to protect children online.
Lotta Sylwander has been the UNICEF Representative to the Philippines since March 2014. Previously she represented the UNICEF in Vietnam and Zambia.
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