Before the implementation of the programme Down to Zero – Building Back Better in Lapu-Lapu City, in the Philippines, it was rare for a community member to report cases of child abuse, because of the idea that it may create unnecessary troubles to the person who is reporting the case.
However, in late 2021, the project team oriented 20 volunteers in the barangay (neighbourhood) of Babag to be a part of the Child Protection Task Force. This is a grassroot group that supports the government in their community. The members were committed to help the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (whose main task is to create programmes for the welfare of all the children in the barangay, and to encourage the community to participate) by reporting child abuse cases.
On 10 February, 2022, a 14-year-old girl was raped by her own father in her own home. A few days later, she told her mother. Luckily, on 14 February, the mother of the rape victim approached Fe Asingua and Judith Cabrera, members of the Child Protection Task Force and informed them about the incident. Asingua and Cabrera immediately had a hands-on approach to the case. Upon realising the sensitivity of the issue, Fe Asingua interviewed the child privately to obtain more details, and helped the victim get a medical examination at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Centre. Then, both Asingua and Cabrera reported the case to the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children and proceeded to the Gender and Development Office. In addition, they went to the office of the Lapu-Lapu City Social Welfare to seek legal assistance.
The 14-year-old girl was provided counselling by the Gender and Development Office and members of the Child Protection Task Force. She is also scheduled to receive counselling by a social worker from the City Social Welfare Office.
Presently, Asingua and Cabrera are still monitoring the situation of the girl, along with the legal action in progress, and they make reports about it to the Gender and Development Office. Unfortunately, a criminal case has not yet been filed against the perpetrator, who is still at large.
“The existence of the Child Protection Task Force in our barangay is of great help to us in the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children because they are a force multiplier in protecting the rights of the children, and we absolutely need their services in the barangay,” said Alejandra Montaclar, the co-chair of the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children in Babag. “I thank Terre des Hommes for organising the Child Protection Task Force in our barangay.”
The Child Protection Task Force has a good impact because of the perception it creates: contrasting the idea that reporting abuse will cause more harm, the children and their communities slowly get used to the idea that there are certain community members who are concerned and willing to offer help to any victim of abuse.
The initiative is an example of child rights’ advocacy at a grassroots level, and it is effective since it directly engages with the possible victim(s). Because of that, the partnership between the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children and the Child Protection Task Force is a clear necessity at this time – especially if some of the violators of children’s rights are the parents.
Hopefully, other partners can replicate the organisation and practices of the Child Protection Task Force, and reinforce the current effort of the local government units to secure children’s safety.