The 2015 National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children found that nearly one in five children (17 percent) ages 13 to 17 was a victim of child sexual abuse (CSA) in the Philippines. In recent years, online CSA has grown significantly with the spread of the internet and mobile phones. UNICEF, ECPAT International, and Interpol reported that 20 percent of internet-using children ages 12 to 17 were subjected to online CSA and exploitation, or two million Filipino children between 2020 and 2021. In response, the government enacted Republic Act 11930, also known as “The Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials Act,” in August 2022. This new law builds upon the longstanding legal framework that upholds children’s rights and protects children from all forms of abuse, including the Child and Youth Welfare Code of 1974 and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act (Republic Act 7610), enacted in 1992.
Various inter-agency bodies—under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Department of Education, and Department of the Interior and Local Government—supervise the enforcement of child-protection laws and the formulation of policy. The Department of Justice leads the inter-agency Committee for the Special Protection of Children, which oversees the implementation of Republic Act 7610. The Department of Education, meanwhile, mandated the creation of Child Protection Committees in 2012, addressing any form of child abuse, including CSA, in schools through awareness campaigns and capacity-building activities for school staff.
The Child and Youth Welfare Code led to the establishment of the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC). The CWC coordinates policies aimed at child protection and has launched specific initiatives against CSA that are consistent with the National Strategic Framework for Plan Development for Children 2000–2025 (Child 21). This national framework serves as a guiding document for successive national action plans and programming for children. The CWC, together with other government bodies, UNICEF, and civil-society organizations, initiated the Philippine Plan of Action to End Violence against Children (PPAEVAC) for 2017–2022, which has specific policies, activities, and programs to combat CSA. This year, the agency is leading the development of the National Plan of Action for Children for 2023–2028, which will cover measures that target CSA. Notwithstanding these efforts, Mama Fatima Singhateh, the UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, identified gaps in addressing CSA during her visit to the Philippines in 2022, including insufficient attention to CSA in sectors like travel and tourism and the need for a centralized disaggregated data repository on CSA cases.
The PPAEVAC for 2017—2022 proposed an estimated budget of PHP 548.0 million for six key result areas aimed at ending violence against children, including CSA, in the country. (See Figure 1.) The six key result areas are designed to address the demand-side factors (e.g., the lack of awareness among parents and their children), the supply-side factors (e.g., delivery of social services), and the enabling environment (e.g., effective enforcement of relevant laws) that are obstacles to ending violence against children. However, the Disrupting Harm in the Philippines study noted the lack of clarity on whether these budget estimates have been properly allocated and utilized by the government.
Philippine Plan of Action to End Violence Against Children (PPAEVAC) 2017–2022
Beyond the estimated figures contained in the PPAEVAC, it is possible to identify some relevant departmental contributions to CSA response through annual budgets. As the lead agency overseeing the implementation of Republic Act 7610, the Department of Justice has a budget of PHP 1.1 million for the “Special protection of children” for FY 2023, an allocation that has been consistent over the last five years. (See Figure 2.) Additionally, it leads the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), which is planned to have a National Coordination Center against CSA upon the full implementation of the Republic Act 11930. PHP 99.3 million is allocated for anti-trafficking enforcement for FY 2023, consistent with the allocation over recent years, except for FY 2020. However, the General Appropriations Act (GAA) document does not indicate how much is allocated to combat CSA specifically.
Department of Justice Budget for Child-Protection Programs
Data Source: Philippine FY 2019–2023 General Appropriations Act
The CWC has a budget of PHP 85.2 million for its Child Rights and Coordination Program for FY 2023, a 64 percent increase from the FY 2022 budget. However, this amount is PHP 5 million less than the FY 2020 budget. (See Figure 3.) Funding for the Child Rights and Coordination Program is used to finance the formulation of the National Plan of Action for Children and produce periodic reports on the implementation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, among other activities. An additional PHP 12.6 million in funding is allocated for Subaybay Bata (“child watch”), a data-collection and -monitoring system for indicators related to children’s well-being, including CSA cases.
Council for the Welfare of Children Budget
Data Source: Philippine FY 2019–2023 General Appropriations Act
The Department of Education’s Child Protection Committee Program, which aims to prevent and respond to CSA and other forms of abuse in schools, has a budget of PHP 58.1 million for FY 2023. (See Figure 4.) About 20 percent of these funds are dedicated to capacity building of educators on child abuse prevention and response, as well as consultations and information-dissemination activities. However, the GAA document does not specify where more than half of the FY 2023 CPC budget will be allocated, which makes tracking funding to prevent and respond to CSA exceedingly difficult.
Department of Education Budget for Child Protection Program
Data Source: Philippine FY 2022–2023 General Appropriations Act
While other government entities are reportedly involved in CSA response, their budgets typically lack specific allocations for CSA-related activities. For example, local governments are mandated to set aside 1 percent of their internal revenue allotments for the Local Council for the Protection of Children. However, there are no clear mechanisms in place to monitor the utilization of this allotment, and the funding is reportedly allocated to a diverse set of activities for children, such as food programs and anti-drug abuse campaigns. Similarly, while the Philippine Commission on Women leads the Inter-Agency Council on Violence Against Women and Their Children and the implementation of the Anti-Violence Against Women and their Children Act of 2004 (Republic Act 9262), its GAA budget does not specify spending related to CSA. Furthermore, while public hospitals are required to budget for women and child protection units (WCPUs), which provide services to CSA victims, there remains a gap in monitoring mechanisms to ensure compliance with this mandate.
This lack of transparency and specificity is a recurring theme across multiple departments, posing a significant challenge to understanding the full scope of government spending on CSA and the need for additional targeted investments to support implementation. Recognizing this challenge, a representative of UNICEF Philippines, in an interview with FP Analytics, commented, “At present, there is no existing mechanism to track and monitor allocation and budget for children, including public investment in child protection at the local level. To address this challenge for LGUs [local government units], UNICEF supports the government in the development of the child budget tagging tool that not only tracks and monitors but measures adequacy, equity, effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency of public investment in social services. The adoption and use of the budget-tagging system for children at the local level will also increase the capacity of local governments to enhance performance-based budgeting to support adolescent participation to ensure quality delivery of social services for women, adolescents, and children.”
The Philippine government’s approach to ensuring child protection relies on inter-agency bodies rather than a single overseeing entity. While this approach brings different perspectives and resources to tackling CSA, it makes it difficult to define a clear delineation of responsibilities for CSA measures and to track how money is appropriated and spent on CSA prevention and response. As an interviewee from UNICEF Philippines explained, “The strengths of the government lie in this multitude of child protection laws. But when analyzed in terms of effective implementation, as has been done, the fragmentation resulting from these multiple laws, creating various structures, also becomes an impediment to a more effective and efficient implementation of these child-protection laws. There must be a functional child protection system with a clear accountability mechanism that implements these laws, especially in the local levels or communities, because these are where our children are.” This fragmentation leads to a gap in awareness regarding responsible agencies and confusion about the mechanisms in place to report CSA cases—44 percent of children in the Philippines say that they would not know where to seek help if victimized.
Although the country has national plans to combat violence against children, including CSA, the strategies identified in these plans have yet to be fully translated into concrete budgeted activities tracked through a centralized system. The country has a composite of activities to mitigate CSA, but usually these activities are indistinguishable from broader child-protection or child-rights programs in the GAA document. Furthermore, there is a lack of updated official data on violence against children, including CSA, as the most recent National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children was conducted in 2015. The absence of updated data presents a challenge in identifying the targeted measures required to combat CSA effectively. Pointing to the need for further data-driven insights, a Philippine government representative noted in an interview with FP Analytics, “Focus on research. The latest data on violence against children, which includes child sexual abuse, was done in 2015. It’s about time that we had more updated research on violence against children in the country.”
The Philippines is taking significant steps to address CSA, especially those committed online, but the country’s budgeting and strategic implementation practices could benefit from increased specificity, transparency, and accountability.
Nevertheless, the Department of Justice’s budget for child protection has remained largely steady between FY 2019 and FY 2023. Meanwhile, there have been sizable increases in the Department of Education’s child-protection and the CWC’s child-rights budgets, at 162 percent and 64 percent, respectively, between FY 2022 and FY 2023. The country is committed to tackling CSA through the full implementation of Republic Act 11930. This new law mandates the appropriation of funds for the National Coordination Center against CSA, with the inclusion of these funds in the GAA. However, it is still unclear whether the budget allocation for this center will be merged with anti-trafficking measures, as the center will fall under the direction of the IACAT. Moreover, without greater budget transparency, it is challenging to track the allocation and utilization of funds intended to combat CSA specifically.
The Philippines is taking significant steps to address CSA, especially crimes committed online, but the country’s budgeting and strategic implementation practices could benefit from increased specificity, transparency, and accountability. Indeed, with a score of 68/100 in the Open Budget Survey 2021, the Philippines has a clear opportunity for improvement in terms of budget transparency. Having mechanisms in place at the national and local levels to track budgetary flows and link the budget to specific countering CSA measures would help the government increase the effectiveness of, and better target, its efforts to counteract CSA. There are promising initiatives underway, including the development of a budget-tagging tool at the local level. Ideally, this valuable tool could be expanded to the national level, enhancing the transparency and accountability of funds.