Yes you! There is a law in the Philippines that states, in short, anyone that is in the company of a child under the age of 12, or a minor who is 10 years your junior then you can be arrested and imprisoned. There are two exceptions, if your interaction with children is required because of legal, moral or cultural reasons then you are exempted from the law. The second exemption is if you’re related to the child by blood or marriage to the 4th degree.
In The Company of Children!
The law in question is Republic Act 7610. It sets up various conditions which qualify as child abuse. While it is aimed at sexual abuse that is not the only type of abuse it attempts to protect children from. The entire act includes protection in extreme poverty or conditions created by war. The part of the law that I find alarming is quoted below:
Any person who shall keep or have in his company a minor, twelve (12) years or under or who in ten (10) years or more his junior in any public or private place, hotel, motel, beer joint, discotheque, cabaret, pension house, sauna or massage parlor, beach and/or other tourist resort or similar places shall suffer the penalty of prison mayor in its maximum period and a fine of not less than Fifty thousand pesos (P50,000.00): Provided, That this provision shall not apply to any person who is related within the fourth degree of consanguinity or affinity or any bond recognized by law, local custom and tradition or acts in the performance of a social, moral or legal duty.
Any public or private place. While the law lists several locations, those are just examples. The law includes any place be it public or be it private.
So, suppose you hire a yaya to help take care of your children, she would be in the company of your child. Does the law apply to her? I think it certainly could. Let’s say you move in with a Filipina and she has children, are you in violation of this law. Probably yes. Is her annulment complete? That’s a scary can of worms.
The Philippines legal system seems to still be rooted in common sense though and that’s what will likely keep this law from being abused in most cases. At this time, there appears to have been two arrests under this law. Both have occurred in the last 30 days and both occurred on Bantayan Island in Northern Cebu. (editor’s note, there is also a case of a foreigner – a UN Doctor – who has been charged under this law in Makati)
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is responsible for seeing that this law is enforced and the child are protected. In one of the cases mentioned above, two of the children he had been in the company of have since claimed Eric Rohn had touched them inappropriately. So I suspect which law they prosecute him under will change. He has missionary status so he might have met one of the exclusions. If these two girls, age 11 and 15 stick to their latest story, I’d say his days as a free man are over as he is 69 years old. The other individual is Preston Kuntz. So far, the 12 year old girl he was found alone with at a resort on Bantayan Island has stated that Kuntz has done nothing inappropriate. The girl’s parents have been charged with a different crime, a more harsh crime than Kuntz but they continue to say he was just a friend of the family.
It appears the DSWD is using the law mostly in an attempt to gain more evidence and to get the children out of immediate danger when there is not enough evidence to charge them with more specific acts. I think the lawyer’s statement sheds some insight into how the department views this law:
Lawyer Irene Cabales of the Children’s Legal Bureau said they would want to test Republic Act 7610 that prohibits anyone, especially foreigners, from having minors under their custody.
I doubt that they would arrest a yaya without some other indications that there was a problem going on. I think you can reduce your potential risk by not being with children unless their parent or other relative is there but the law doesn’t actually say that. Again, I’m relying on my observations that the Philippine legal system still exercises common sense in most cases. I doubt a lawyer would tell someone to rely on that though.
It doesn’t matter if the parents of the child want the accused to be punished. The State has an obligation to protect the children from the accused and their parents or anyone else that is not taking adequate care and protection of them.
One of the safe guards built into the law is that it limits who can actually bring charges under such an act. In the Philippines, many laws allow for any interest party to bring charges against someone else. For example, an individual brought charges of bigamy against politicians in Cebu even though he was not married to them. He was a political rival. On a side note, that man is now dead. Shot in his front yard while talking to his son and wife.
It is important to know, that you don’t have to be alone with the child. If you’re actually found to be alone with the child, then the penalty goes and up and its considered attempted child prostitution with possible life sentence!
I find this law to be alarming. While only certain entities can actually charge one with violating this law, that will not prevent extortionist, competitors, estranged spouses or others from going to authorities and accusing someone of being in the company of children! In the two cases I know about, much more was suspected but it doesn’t actually have to be. Being an American, I’m accustomed to laws being used to the letter of the law, even twisted to create new law and common sense seemingly often tossed out the window. That makes this seem like a law ripe for potential abuse. You should keep this law in mind as you go through your daily life in the Philippines.
Let me hear your thoughts. Am I over reacting? Am I under reacting?