Quezon City, June 4, 2002 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Two congressmen are facing investigation by the House ethics committee — one for Bantay Bata 163 tackles growing child abuse problem

The Philippine Star 06/04/2002

Visitors to the "Bantay Bata 163" crisis center cannot help but notice Jessie and Annalyn, heart-breaking symbols of child abuse in the Philippines.

Four-year-old Annalyn is blind due to severe malnutrition while the lanky 10-year-old Jessie is restless after being extricated from a box stored under the sink of a dirty kitchen where he was confined for almost six years.

Easily distracted Jessie’s mental health is severely stunted because of his ordeal at the hands of a psychologically disturbed "carer" at his previous home.

The now chubby and angelic Annalyn has resigned herself to a life of permanent darkness after a corneal transplant failed to save her eyesight.

The two are among 64 children in the halfway house of the Bantay Bata 163 child abuse intervention program run by a welfare foundation of broadcasting giant ABS-CBN.

Other inmates at the five-room unmarked house in Quezon City include an eight-month old girl savagely raped by her male guardian.

"Eight months or eight years?" a group of puzzled visitors in unison ask the center’s caretaker Rebecca Tamondong about the age of the sexually abused child, who lies oblivious in a playpen.

"Eight months, sir," Tamondong confirmed, drawing loud sighs from the guests.

Twenty-five inmates at the center are sexually abused victims.

Their traumatic experience epitomizes the growing problem of abuse affecting Filipino children, who constitute about 45 percent of the country’s nearly 80 million population. A similar percentage of people live in the clutches of poverty.

Research conducted in schools shows that for every three Filipino children, one child experiences abuse, including rape, attempted rape, incest, acts of lasciviousness and prostitution.

Of the 1.5 million streetchildren in the country, 60,000 are prostituted.

The statistics are growing each day, warns Child Protection in the Philippines, a network of non-governmental organizations dedicated to helping the abused young. "These clearly depict the immense hardship which Filipino children are subjected to."

Bantay Bata 163 is among the more popular childcare groups supplementing the efforts of the cash-starved government in containing child abuse cases.

The group receives strong grassroots support, with aggressive publicity by ABS-CBN’s extensive radio and television network, which documents all child rescue operations.

Reputedly it is the world’s first and only media-based intervention program that provides a holistic approach in rescuing and rehabilitating sick and abused children, said Gina Lopez, managing director of ABS-CBN Foundation Inc.

"We feel we are doing something good," Lopez said. "Despite the trauma they went through, the children are smiling and happy in our home. This is itself an achievement," she added.

The group’s activities are financed largely by public donations and charity from small and large businesses. –AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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