UN expert urges Philippines to focus on tackling sexual exploitation of children in tourism, too

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UN expert urges Philippines to focus on tackling sexual exploitation of children in tourism, too
Mama Fatima Singhateh, the United Nations Special Rapporter on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, speaks during a press conference in Makati, suburban Manila on December 8, 2022.
AFP / Ted Aljibe

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government should also focus on addressing the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism and consider establishing child-specific courts, an expert from the United Nations said Thursday.

Mama Fatima Singhateh, UN special rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children, is in the Philippines to assess the situation and the progress made in combating the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

In a briefing, Singhateh said the government made improvements in addressing sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The Philippines, however, remains a source and destination country for child trafficking, sale, sexual abuse, forced marriage, and forced labor.

The UN expert observed that while there are a lot of focus on the online exploitation of children, the attention on matters related to sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, and through transactional sex “has not been adequate.”

“Sexual abuse and exploitation should be seen holistically,” said Singhateh, who served as The Gambia’s justice minister.

“I’m highlighting sexual abuse and exploitation in the context of tourism and travel, and in transactional sex because I did not hear the government talk about it. If the government is not talking about it, that means interventions that are being used are not focused on that area,” she added.

The special rapporteur stressed that the country’s laws lack explicit provisions penalizing the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism.

She noted that officials do not have adequate information on the scope and the manifestations of sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism, and suggested the need for extensive training of personnel.

These are among the preliminary observations of Singhateh during her 10-day visit to the Philippines. Her final report will be presented at the session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2023.

Child-specific courts

Singhateh also pointed out the importance of having courts that are dedicated solely for the protection of children or adjudication of child-related cases.

In the Philippines, all child-related cases are handled by family courts, which also hear divorce and child custody cases.

“The volume of cases in this court delays the conclusion of child abuse cases that result in emotional and psychological impact on victims, thereby depriving them of access o child-friendly justice system,” she said.

Concerned about the lack of special training of prosecutors in handling cases of child abuse, Singhateh recommended the creation of a special prosecution unit for the matter.

The UN expert also noted other issues such as child marriage, illegal adoption, teenage pregnancy, exclusion of indigenous ethnic minority children, and discrimination against LGBTQI children.

“The invitation, cooperation, and collaboration provided during my visit indicates that there is commitment to address the source of sale, sexual abuse, and exploitation of children in light of needs of victims and survivors,” Singhateh said.

“I am encouraged by the significant efforts made and the work undertaken by the government over the past few years. I am also hopeful the efforts will be advanced further subsequent to my visit,” she added.




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