MANILA, Philippines - Filipino parents must learn to teach their children about body parts and their basic rights to prevent them from being abused, the Child Protection Unit (CPU) of the Philippines said Thursday.
CPU Executive Director Bernie Madrid said research in the United States has shown that teaching children about their sex organs and how to protect themselves becomes a form of primary protection against abuse.
"There are Filipinos who are uncomfortable talking about their private parts but for parents, they have to tell their kids the proper names for what's inside their briefs and bathing suits and that no one should be touching those," she said in an interview on ANC's Headstart.
Madrid said one reason why Filipino parents seem unwilling to talk about body parts is because Filipino words for sex organs are considered swear words or dirty words.
"When you say penis or vagina, it's like a clinical term. That's why Pinoys say words like 'totoy' or 'pototoy' for the penis. If vagina is pekpek, you should call it that. Don't call it flower because they get confused. You tell the kids 'that's yours and no one has to touch it,'" she said.
Incest, abuse cases rising
Madrid said arming kids with knowledge about their bodies is also important because of the rise in sexual abuse cases in the country.
She said 85% of the 1,145 child abuse cases treated by CPU every year involves sexual abuse.
Statistics also show that 33% or one-third of the 9,787 child abuse cases reported to the Philippine National Police Women's and Children's Desk in 2009 are incest cases.
Madrid said sex abuse is usually done by a neighbor, followed by an acquaintance, and finally, a relative.
In the first scenario, she said the abuse is usually done by a much older neighbor. "Like a father, someone they know who has access to the house. These days, parents are working and they are not in the house. The children arrive from school and you have the neighbor there," she said.
She said that in reported sex abuse cases in the Philippines, the age gap between the child and the offender is very high, with 13-year-old kids going out with "boyfriends" who are 29.
"You could see that there is a very big power gap, and you can see that this 13-year old is being manipulated by this older guy," she said.
Madrid also lamented that when abuse is done by a teacher, it is the child who suffers.
"We have a lot of patients where the offender is a teacher. It's very difficult because you can see the power structure. The response is cover-up and pressure to the child not to tell. Sometimes, the child is suspended or expelled and the teacher remains in the school," she said.
In incest cases, she said sometimes the child does not know they are being abused until they are in school.
She said socio-economic class may not always be a factor since some incest victims are not necessarily from the poor.
She, however, pointed out that when the family is poor, there are no boundaries for the child and the parents.
"Without any boundaries, the child can see their father and mother naked. That is emotional abuse for the child," she said.
Tell-tale signs of abuse
Madrid said there are several tell-tale signs that a child is being abused.
"Sometimes, you have a child who is doing well in school starts doing badly and failing. Sometimes, a child may not want to go to school (or) is avoiding a certain person and is very much afraid to meet that person," she said.
She said the child could also start avoiding people and meeting friends. "They think there's a sign on their face and people will know what happened to them so they avoid," she said.
Sometimes, parents even force their kids to pay respects to acquaintances and neighbors without knowing that abuse might have occurred.
"In our culture,we tell our kids to kiss their ninongs even if the child doesn't want to do it. You say you have to but we must not force. If we feel something is not quite right and [the child] just can't express it, we have to be very careful," she said.
The effects of abuse vary. Madrid said 30% of sex abuse victims may not show any signs that they have been affected because the effects of abuse are not immediate.
"We call it a time bomb. The effects may happen 12 years later, when they get married and are in their honeymoon. So you don't know when the effects will show," she said.
In other cases, she said abuse victims become depressed or suicidal. Others become anxious, have trouble sleeping or have problems with their appetite.
Madrid said child abuse victims are initially screened by the Child Protection Unit to see if they need emergency medical care. She said all the kids talk to a child psychiatrist to see the effects of the abuse.
The worst cases, she said, are children who are victimized by sex traffickers.
"It's harder if they've been there for a long time. You might think you don't have a choice anymore and you are different from other people," she said.