Save the Children called on the government to conduct an “immediate and thorough” investigation into alleged violence against 1000 children in the southern Philippines.
Lawyer Alberto Muyot, CEO of Save the Children Philippines, said authorities must “secure the protection of the affected children and bring the perpetrators to justice”.
The group fears that there “could be more affected children who are unaccounted for” and lives are at risk, adding that “time is of the essence”.
The Socorro Bayanihan Services Incorporated (SBSI), a former civic organization that was turned into a religious movement, is accused of child abuse, rape, and forced marriages within its ranks, including minors.
In her speech on Monday, September 18, Senator Risa Hontiveros exposed disturbing cases of violence against women and children by the cult’s members in Socorro town in Surigao del Norte province.
“This is a harrowing story of rape, sexual violence, child abuse, forced marriage perpetrated on minors by a cult. This cult is armed and dangerous,” the Senator said, citing witness accounts.
SBSI, now known as Omega de Salonera, is also reportedly engaged in financial extortion of its members. It has at least 3,500 members, including 1,580 children.
Hontiveros said eight children managed to escape the cult and have provided their testimonies to the authorities. However, the children remain in danger because the cult is trying to reclaim them.
Save the Children called on local government units to “strengthen their child protection systems” and urged the public to “remain vigilant in ensuring that every last child grows up safe, free, and happy”.
“Together, we can collectively create a safer and more secure environment for all children in our society, ensuring that the promise of these laws becomes a reality, and no child is left vulnerable to violence and exploitation,” said Muyot.