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Are unhappy marriages here to stay?


Children make up 77 per cent of rape survivors in The Philippines and the crime occurs at a rate of two every minute.

Data released last year by the National Police shows rape cases surged by 63.5 per cent to 8,288, up from 5,069 recorded in the first six months of 2014.

Data from 2014 show that the number was double the incident rate of 2010 in the only country in the world that still bans divorce.

Cases of criminal abuse against women and their children rose by 200 per cent over the same period. Police attribute the increase to improved reporting.

But Emmie de Jesus, a member of the congress, said official statistics don’t reflect the true breadth of the crisis. She revealed that only three in 10 survivors of sexual abuse seek help. Almost 40 per cent suffer in silence; 27 per cent share the experience, but back away from seeking help.

That only 7,416 rape suspects are in jail shows how elusive justice is for women in a country that won top education and health marks in a World Economic Forum study on narrowing the gender gap.

It is hard to dispute de Jesus’ claim of a direct link between poverty and abuse.

Of women respondents to the National Demographic and Health Survey, 24 per cent from the bottom economic classes reported physical abuse, compared with 15 per cent in the top brackets.

Regions reporting the highest numbers of abuse cases were among the poorest and most prone to disaster and conflict. In most sexual abuse cases, the tormentors are relatives, friends or guardians.

A quarter of women in relationships have suffered physical abuse, among them 55 per cent by current spouses or partners and 30 per cent by exes. Eight per cent say the abuse started in the first two years of marriage.

“Poverty puts tremendous pressures on families and individuals,” de Jesus, who slammed the absence of inclusive growth despite glowing growth figures, commented.

A quarter of Filipinos are still poor. More than 20 million live in crime-ridden slums. Six per cent of grade school pupils and eight per cent of high school students drop out, drifting to street labour, prostitution and cybersex.

UNICEF estimates that 70,000 to 100,000 children are trafficked yearly for sex. To international law enforcement agencies, The Philippines is a key hub of the paedophile cyberporn industry worth several billions of dollars.

Natural disasters and conflicts that have displaced millions of women since 2013 worsen gender abuse.

In areas torn apart by Typhoon Haiyan, more than 2,000 families are still crammed into bunkhouses.

Violence also rises with the number of children and The Philippines has south-east Asia’s highest fertility rate.

The Philippines imposes stiff penalties on violence against women and children, but has a snail-paced justice system: A million cases arrive in the court annually; a quarter of judicial posts remain unfilled. Lower court judges on the average receive 644 new cases every year and juggle up to 4,000 cases.

While there is a police division that tackles crime against women and children, it has filled less than half of the 200 staff positions and it does not have an adequate budget.

Abuse victims who depend on spouses or partners for economic needs, including that of children, are doubly burdened. Women make up half the national labour force, but earn 40 less than men. Being the family’s primary caregiver also affects earning capacity.

The country allows annulment but under stringent rules. The government can object even when both parties want out. Applicants need to prove the marriage void. Short of non-consummation, accusations of bigamy or contracting a fake marriage, the alternative is psychological incapacity and expert witnesses are expensive.

Lawyers are expensive too and most people simply cannot afford it.

The Vatican recently relaxed guidelines for Church annulments. Archbishop Oscar Cruz, the head of the National Appellate Matrimonial Tribunal for the Church, said the reforms would encourage separated Catholics to seek marriage nullity. His court hears about 60 cases a year.

Archbishop Socrates Villegas said the new policy does not change the doctrine on the sacredness of marriage and family life, but what it does do is provide a balm to Catholics who suffer quietly believing in their spousal obligations, when the truth is there was no marriage to speak of from the very start.

The Centre for Women’s Resources says cultural stereotypes that portray women as chattels or sex objects discourage even upper class and educated women from pursuing justice.

Male judges outnumber female judges two to one. Males also dominate 40,000 villages, the country’s basic political unit, where most complaints are initially filed.

“Families can pressure women to drop abuse cases for the sake of the children, while shame erodes their will to pursue rape cases,” de Jesus says.

“We are still a country where victims get blamed, where women are told to defer to spouses on the matter of sex, where marital rape remains an alien concept for many and where issues of dress and manners are used to justify abuse,” she explained.

                      • Father Shay Cullen