The goal towards a gender-equal society may still be at the far end of the bridge, especially that not only girls and women, or the LGBTQIA+ community experience gender
discrimination, violence, abuse, among others.
In 2019, the Family for Every Child, an international alliance of civil organizations working for children’s care, together with its partner organization in the Philippines Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse (CPTCSA), conducted a study that aimed to document the voices of Filipino boys to increase the understanding of the various aspects affecting the cause and effect of sexual abuse of boys.
The study was inspired by similar researches that show an estimated one in six boys worldwide are affected by sexual violence before they are 18. The research materials also show how boys are more vulnerable to violence and abuse yet cases are less reported compare to girls’ experiences. In the Philippines alone, the 2016 National Baseline Study on Violence against Children found that one in four children (24.9 percent) suffer from any form of sexual violence, with more boys victimized (28.7 percent) than girls (20.1 percent).
As to how and why these cases supervene with less people knowing about them is something that we have to uncover in the intersectional aspects of our community, in order to provide a more caring environment for boys because boys need our attention and protection too.
Hear their voice
According to UNICEF, Philippines is one the top ten countries across the world that produce sexual content using children. In UNICEF Philippines’ video feature produced in 2019, two boys, who are siblings, shared their experience as victims of this kind of abuse.
Joey and Baltazar, not their real names, recalled the traumatizing moments of them being coerced to show and perform sexual acts in front of a webcam to satisfy the requests of the paedophile offenders.
They were only 12 and 13 when they were sexually abused by a foreigner who lived near their school. The foreigner started to invite these young boys to come over to his house to give them food and provide them a place for recreation. But after a couple of meeting or so, the foreigner began to abuse these boys and engage them in cybersex activities, in exchange of money and other things that they need.
Because of their fear that this man will kill their parents once they speak out and also the shame of being bullied by friends and getting identified along with that foreigner, Joey and Baltazar chose to remain silent until the time when the foreigner’s computer needed repair and the computer repairman discovered saved naked images and videos of children, including the two, doing sexual acts.
How did we get here?
This often-hidden issue is not just a concern of boys but rather a multisectoral engagement. Based on the 2016 study mentioned above, factors such as boys’ experiences in school, utilization of media and exposure to pornographic content, influence of peers, their families’ views, cultural definitions and social expectations for boys, among others, contribute to an ever-growing and even worsening situation of boys when it comes to abuse and violence.
The patriarchal society which has fostered through time must end starting from our everyday thoughts and activities that may seem insignificant but impactful when piled up. For example, we often hear the phrase “boys will be boys” which encages boys to certain ideals and behaviors expected of them, eventually depriving them of expressing their true and honest selves. Oftentimes, when boys are prevented to express and connect with their emotions - when they are told not to cry and maintain a “macho” image - it is when they develop an aggressive behavior instead, as a coping mechanism to that suppressed emotion.
Joey and Baltazar are victims of a system that preys on the vulnerability of the youth, be it in terms of their social status or gender. The good thing, the two, with the help of organizations that work on these issues, have become better individuals. They were able to understand their situation and decided to help communities and advocate for awareness on child abuse and violence.
“I am no longer afraid to speak because I was only a victim. I am not at fault,” one of them said.
Time to Act
In order to combat such violence and promote awareness and the protection for the well-being of boys, the Blue Umbrella Day Campaign will be launched for the first time, globally, on the 16th of April 2021.
The said campaign initiated by the Family for Every Child and led by member organizations in India, Paraguay, Guyana, and the Philippines, is dedicated to “changing the way we teach boys to help them avoid harm in their life, and to ask for help when they need it.”
These three key messages are to be emphasized on the Blue Umbrella Day:
Boys need adult care and protection too
Boys can be victims of sexual violence
Being a ‘real man’ means looking after yourself and being kind to others
Blue Umbrella Day has been conducting series of webinars that aim to raise awareness and prompt people globally to take the responsibility of working with men, boys, and everyone to stop child abuse.
“We can better protect boys from sexual abuse, assault and exploitation. It starts with changing attitudes.”- Blue Umbrella Day
It is in our hands to make a better world, especially for the younger generation who has more to live and experience. As much as we care for girls and women empowerment, I hope we don’t neglect the boys too. But, actually, regardless of the sex or gender, let us all try to be a little kinder as possible, now that we are in these trying times where a single act of humanity can go a long way.