Published in Roots & Wings, Lifestyle section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 3, 2011 by Cathy S. Babao. Posted with her permission.
In the wake of the recent Willie Revillame-Janjan child abuse issue, I found myself re-reading Dr. Honey Carandang’s 2004 book published by Anvil – “Self-Worth and the Filipino Child.” Her quote jumped right at me — “The best gift we can give to the Filipino child is a solid sense of self-worth. Not coincidentally, this is also what our country needs today.” Disturbed by the events of the past week, I sought out Dra. Carandang to help find meaning to what had happened.
Two salient points were raised by the esteemed child and family psychologist who heads the MLAC Institute for Families and Children. “Giving money confuses the child very deeply,” she began. “Abused (physical or sexual) children after a while, begin to realize that what has happened to them is wrong and so they become angry because they know that abuse has taken place.” On the other hand, Carandang says, the prostituted child is more difficult to reach in therapy because the layer of abuse has become too deep and there is confusion as a result of the money that is given.
“The prostituted child does not like what is happening to him or her, but because he or she is given money that is very often much needed by the child himself or by the child’s family, then the confusion sets in – ‘I am traumatized but I am given money that will help my family.’ It is the element of money, the exchange of it that makes it doubly immoral more so if it is a child that is involved,” she explains.
Carandang said that she has often observed in many television shows nowadays that very little dignity of respect is shown for the child perhaps because of the myth na “bata lang iyan” which she says is a complete fallacy. “A child’s dignity and respect must never be violated, it becomes worse when he or she is rewarded after being ridiculed or shamed. What message are we delivering to the child, more so to the audience?”
In a study Carandang’s group conducted for the International Catholic Child Bureau and the International Labor Organization, where her group profiled hundreds of prostituted children, she says it was really the money factor that degraded the child. “They cannot dwell on the, in the children’s words themselves “kabababuyan” that was done to them, because they were rewarded for it which makes it doubly hard for the therapist to penetrate into the layers of the trauma that has taken place. So when we do this in public, when we humiliate and ridicule a child, and say that he is being heroic because he is doing this for his family, and then rewarded for doing such a thing, we are sending not only mixed signals to the child but also presenting a distorted sense of values for the whole country.”
Such an act, the reward of money for acts that humiliate or ridicule is a subtle way of planting confusion into the hearts and minds of the public. “It’s like saying – it’s okay to debase yourself, to have your dignity trampled on because you will be rewarded for doing so. Thus, the distortion of values is really very subtle.” Carandang tells me about what one of her helpers had told her about a popular show where the more stupid you appeared, the more money you were given “Bakit ganun doktora, kung mas magpapaka-tanga ka, mas malaking pera ang makukuha mo?” Her helpers comment reminded me of my own cleaning lady who the other day blurted out her frustration over the manner by which a popular host was giving away money at his own whim – “Ano kaya ma’am ang basehan kung bakit yung isa five thousand, at yung three thousand lang?”
Such practices on national television, Carandang says, are very dangerous. “There has to be a real and valid basis for giving out the money. Rewarding someone for making a fool of himself or herself is not uplifting at all. When you trample on someone’s respect or dignity because they are poor, or because they need the money and then rewarding them afterwards on the basis of the host’s mood or whim does not make any sense.” The less fortunate do not need to be treated that way, the audience must never be dumbed down in that manner.
Carandang shared with me an experience she had when she went to a community near Payatas and spoke to 300 families coming from the D & E classes. The families in that community had the highest number of recorded abuse in all forms – sexual, physical, moral and verbal. “They told us that the people would not listen to us if we did not being rice and sugar. They were very wrong. We spent a whole day there talking to the people and left without having to give out the rice and sugar that we had brought. All they wanted was for us to return. Ang sabi nila, “Bumalik po kayo kasi gusto pa naming malaman kung paano pa kami magkakaroon ng payapang pagsasama sa pamilya.” There was no need to give them material goods so that they would listen to us.
I told Dra. Carandang that I was deeply disturbed that Jan-Jan’s family had seen nothing wrong with his gyrations on television that he was even being egged on, apparently to go into show business and bring in money for the family. “It’s a value system. Sometimes, the adults do not see anything wrong but it is the child who sees it and feels it. Did we see any joy on Jan-jan’s face as he performed?”
She closed our meeting with a story about how the members of one poor family viewed the abuse (the father was beating the eldest child periodically) taking place in their home in many different ways. “The father said, ‘Okay lang bugbugin basta hindi duguan kasi disiplina. The the mother said, ‘Bugbugin na nya ako, ‘wag lang anak ko.’ And the child who is being beaten says, ‘Ako na lang, ‘wag ang nanay ko.’ It is the youngest child, the five year old, who sees the truth – ‘Mali ang ginagawa ng tatay ko.’ “
There are people who humiliate and say, it’s okay to do what you must no matter the cost, because life is hard and you’ll get money in exchange anyway. And then there was a child, all of six, who could not speak, but through his tears, viewed by thousands, who was the only one who saw how this was all so wrong.