Of healthy food and protecting children

An unexpected visit from partners in the child protection network, who arrived late in the afternoon, turned out surprisingly well due in large to the visiting Director’s facilitation of what became a sharing of field experiences of child protection events and lessons. This is the sort of effective government-civil society informal conversations that are rarely reported in the news.  Things go bad, and get highlighted, only when politicized.

The talk began on a personal note, of individuals known to both sides. We learned that a few have recently passed away.  The causes:  cancer and heart attack. Somebody mentioned a news item that went viral in social media, of a boy who ate so much chicken his favorite food that breast-like lumps grew on his chest. This segued into the importance of taking care of one’s health and the difficulties of doing so, in which food and lifestyle were lengthily discussed. We agreed that in the end it is about returning to the basic: slow food, organically grown/pesticide-free, unprocessed as what our grandparents’ generation and those before them ate and cooked. Somebody mentioned that growing one’s own food in the cities presents a huge challenge. The response was, it is possible to do it in the province although this may have to be postponed later in life, upon retirement. Suddenly becoming aware of the food on the table we laughed that we had in fact just taken out and eaten processed food. At this point, the Director moved the conversation onto child protection, saying “and that, my friends, is also child protection- securing children’s futures by taking care of their health today”.

We talked about the phenomenon in the provinces which is the increasing incidence of sexual abuse and violence against children, often girls, by their own fathers and immediate family members including siblings as young as grade school-aged. And it is sadly the case that abuse and violence are high among families wherein the mother is absent/abroad as an OFW.  Somebody shared about a four year old, now provided care in a center, who after having been raped developed a habit of exploring her private part until it bled. To this somebody echoed the young girl’s question to Pope Francis during his recent visit in the country: why is this happening? The reply from us around the table was, media?

In the provinces, as oft-mentioned in my earlier posts, families are very much updated on the tele-seryes (TV mini-series) despite the lack of electricity and limited choice in TV channels (usually, only two: Kapamilya/ABSCBN or Kapuso/GMA 7) to the point of bringing the characters into life, in their speech, affectations, dress. Very young children curse freely and talk like street-smart thugs.

For school-going girls, incidences of violence often happened during the walk to and from school. I’ve seen these roads. The longest could take an hour and a half for young legs to traverse. Moreover, much of the way is bereft of houses, on either side are tall grass or corn field, and a river farther down, possibly a good location for a horror movie where the soon-to-be-victim who’s trying to outrun the killer repeatedly shouts for help but nobody’s in sight or within hearing.

In incest, many of the mothers have taken the side of their husbands to the extent that they allowed the event to continue by turning blind eye or leading the child to believe nothing untoward is being done to her. Many of the cases were also committed by grandfathers (as old as 80) who were baby-sitting while the parents were at work, in town or abroad. To lighten the mood, the joke made was let it be a lesson that senior citizens, whose loss of memory or dementia may have gone undetected, should not anymore be asked to provide fulltime and unsupervised care to their grandchildren besides they’re through with that with their own therefore let’s allow them to retire in peace.

Child protection concerns are sobering. The subject forces one to reflect deeply and honestly on human vulnerability, limitation, and failing, starting with one’s own because who was it who said it is in understanding one’s self that one will understand another’s capacity for inhuman actions? As well, therein lies the answer to the question, ‘why does evil happen?’  But beyond understanding, there is the imperative to respond to survivors and positively repair the effects of actions against them.

The notion has been that child protection is a “new thing”, “donor-initiated”,  and a “Western influence” but, on the contrary, and using communities’ own biblical framework, “thou shalt not kill”, meant not only in the physical sense I believe, has always been the new order of things.  With increasing awareness of child protection in the provinces brought about by improved government-civil society collaboration, communities are coming forward to report abuse and violence.

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