Indian Catholic News

The difficult fight for children's rights

Lawsuits by accused traffickers are among the pitfalls rescuers face when trying to save young children.

Children in urban Philippine poor communities, like this one in a coastal village in the suburb of Manila, have become targets of human traffickers. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
By Father Shay Cullen

They were only 14 years old and intrigued with that teenage urge to know and experience everything.

They fell for the bait of the trafficker. He gave them money and gifts, and one by one he had them join a "fraternity," a group of girls he abused in his house.

He gave them a taste for drugs and they became dependent on him.

He later invited his friends over and they too sexually abused the girls and gave them drugs and money.

It was not anymore an experimental teenage romp. The girls were sexually exploited. They soon depended on the money and frequented the house of the trafficker. He made money out of them by turning his house into a brothel.

The police were alerted and discovered the trafficking operation. The town's social worker was called in during the raid and six girls were rescued and referred to the Preda Home for Girls.

A medico-legal check up revealed that all the girls had been sexually abused. The trafficker landed in jail and his customers were placed under investigation.

We expect a "counter-attack" from the suspected abusers. They have already vilified Preda online.

They may even file counter-charges and false allegations against us as happened in the past. This is normal for human rights defenders of abused children.

In the Philippines, foreigners who are arrested or charged with child abuse are the most revengeful. They are filled with anger, hatred, and desire to get revenge against us.

One American who was suspected of trafficking came to a point of falsely charging a prosecutor. The man was convicted in court for making false allegations and was sentenced to two years in jail. But by some legal maneuvering, he has not yet served his sentence.

When we at Preda rescue an abused child from an abuser's home or from a sex bar, foreign nationals who are accused or put on trial would usually file charges.

As human rights advocates, we have been charged with libel and slander. When we campaigned to end the Davao Death Squad in 1999, the mayor, now president of the country, charged us with libel.

All the charges were eventually dismissed, and proven false. This is the risk we take in defending the exploited and abused victims of human trafficking.

Even some of the children rescued from the traffickers are not happy to be rescued. They are dependent and have been "bonded" by debts, gifts, and drugs to the trafficker. They see him or her as their "best friend," even as their sex partner.

At first, they don't want to admit they were abused and would not file a complaint. They usually don't see that they need help. They want to get drugs to deal with the trauma of having been found and rescued as sexually exploited children. They need to cover up their shame from their parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and relatives.

Social workers have to counsel them and take them through the reality of their lives in an emotional expression therapy. There in the padded therapy room, they release a lot of anger and pent-up emotions. They are angry at their parents for abandoning them or misunderstanding them or scolding them.

Day after day, they release their anger at themselves, their abusers, and their parents. They move from the feelings stage to the thinking stage and only later change their attitude and realize their worth as persons with rights and dignity.

This is a profound shift in a human person — from a willing victim to an empowered youth looking for justice. They become children again who look forward to a brighter future.

The fight for justice for the children goes on. Those vilifying people working for the children will, one day, be brought to justice. And may it be soon.

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.

Source: UCAN

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