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Justice System
IJM Holds First Judicial Congress to Advance Child-Friendly Courts
Members of the Supreme Court and family court judges gathered for a first-of-its-kind townhall meeting aimed at strengthening the protection of child victims in court proceedings.
A group photo of the attending cohort during the closing program (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)
Mon Mar 25 20247 min read

Years of experience in supporting survivors of online sexual abuse has revealed that in a typical court, children face a high risk of being re-traumatized as their perpetrators face prosecution. International Justice Mission recognizes the negative impact that testifying in court can have on survivors and advocates for trauma-informed and child-protective practices to be engrained in every area of the justice system. The adoption of certain protection strategies provides a pathway to ensuring that the risk of re-traumatization is mitigated while justice is served to offenders.

It is hoped that you, as individuals who hold much power to affect change, protect the children who are victims of sexual abuse and exploitation in your respective jurisdictions, upholding their best interest, above all else.

These are the words of IJM’S Director of National Prosecution Development, Atty. Nelisa (Lisa) Guevara-Garcia at IJM’s first Judicial Congress last January 25-26, 2024. Held at the Roma Salon in Manila Hotel, this event gathered family court judges from across the Philippines for a Townhall Meeting on Child-Protective Strategies and Consultation on the Strengthening of Child-Protective Topics.

IJM’s Prosecution Development Teams organized the event, convening key members of the judicial system, including keynote speaker Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, who reminded those present about the court’s commitment to protect the rights of children and dispense justice for victims of violence and abuse. Also in attendance were Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier, Court Administrator Raul Villanueva and 35 family court judges who possess power to influence the judicial system to uphold child-protective practices. Through dialogue opportunities and intensive round table discussions, they shared their knowledge and gained insights on strengthening child-protective measures in court. They heard from resource speakers on key topics pertinent to child protection in online sexual abuse and exploitation (OSAEC) cases. Throughout the event, they were informed on the current landscape and legal framework of OSAEC in the Philippines and the importance of cultivating a “Child Protection Mindset and applying Trauma-Informed Care that leads to a more victim centered approach,” notes Atty. Lisa.

Court Administrator Raul Villanueva addressed the attendees with an inspirational message, recognizing the work of IJM and urging judges on the prioritization of child protection in the Philippine Constitution. In her keynote message, Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier emphasized that “protecting children is a non-negotiable in balancing the scales of injustice.”

Keynote Message Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier delivers the keynote message during the opening program (Courtesy of IJM)

Trauma-Informed, Child-Protective Interventions

Two specific interventions were emphasized by IJM speakers and in the round-table discussions. Videotaped In-Depth Disclosure Interviews (VIDI) and Plea Bargaining are crucial trauma-informed and child-protective prosecution strategies. VIDI limits the amount of time a survivor recounts their story and avoids continual traumatization, while plea agreements protect the child from having to testify at all and promote reconciliation. Extensive technical conversations were had about these strategies, as judges brought forth their questions and concerns, and learned from IJM casework expertise. More resources that outline the role of trauma-informed courts, child-protective prosecutions, and Video-In-Depth Disclosure Interviews (VIDI) can be found on our website.

IJM Resources To request a copy of the OSEC Compendium, kindly send an email to [email protected]. The Child-Protective Prosecutions and VIDI Framework can be accessed via the links above.

A Survivor Leader’s Call to Action

On Day Two of the Congress, survivor leader Solenn delivered a powerful call to action. She petitioned everyone in attendance to work together so that this crime is eliminated in the Philippines. Only through collaboration can protection against online sexual exploitation of children be expanded and strengthened across the country.

Solenn urged,

Gusto ko na itong matigil. Naniniwala ako na maaari itong matigil o matapos, ngunit hindi ko ito magagawa nang mag-isa. Sama-sama tayong tumayo at lumaban kasama ako at kapwa ko survivors at tulungan niyo kaming, wakasan ang kaharasan sa ating bansa, upang malayo sa pang-aabuso ang mga batang naabuso, at magkaroon ng kalayaan ang bawa't bata at mabuhay ng normal.

I want it to stop. I believe it can be stopped or finished, but I can't do it alone. Let us stand together and fight with me and my fellow survivors and help us, end the violence in our country, so that children who have been abused will be free from abuse, and that every child has freedom and can live a normal life.

Group Photo A group photo of the attending cohort during the discussions (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

The Chief Justice Closes the Gathering with Encouragement

IJM was particularly honored to have Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo attend and deliver a keynote message. The participants were moved when he directly addressed survivor leader Solenn. He applauded her courage and thanked her for her comments. He continued to highlight the importance of child protection measures and exploring new technological approaches, such as VIDI. The Chief Justice drew attention to collaboration between the Supreme Court and IJM. He specifically emphasized discussions to share expertise on child protection measures with judges, exploring the adoption of VIDI, and incorporating online sexual abuse and exploitation of children training for judges (Supreme Court of the Philippines, 2024).

He shares:

As the digital landscape continues to shift in the years ahead, threats and vulnerabilities will continue to find new forms; it is incumbent upon us, then, to keep pace with new technologies, to constantly upgrade our knowledge and capabilities, and to continue building on both skill and sensitivity so we can ensure unhampered access to courts and the efficient delivery of justice for those who need it the most—especially children.

Keynote Message Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo delivers the keynote message during the closing program (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

Moving Forward in Child Protection

IJM endeavors to continue the momentum that was spurred on at the Judicial Congress. IJM has been introduced to the Committee of Family Courts and Juvenile Concerns. This led to invitations to join meetings with the Technical Working Group on possible revisions to the Rules on Examination of a Child Witness and to contribute to the drafting of a Supreme Court VIDI Circular or other related documents. With IJM’s advocacy to advance child-protective strategies in the courtroom by supporting the creation of judicial policies that would mainstream such as the utilization of Videotaped In-Depth Disclosure Interviews as a trauma-informed measure beneficial to survivors of OSAEC; and provide trainings to judges based on an enhanced curriculum focused on survivor centered perspectives, IJM is very much aligned with the plans of the Judiciary.

Closing Remarks Chief Justice Alexander G. Gesmundo receives a token and Certificate of Appreciation from Atty. Samson Inocencio, Jr. and Atty. Nelisa Guevara-Garcia of IJM Philippines during the last day of the Judicial Congress (Courtesy of the Supreme Court Public Information Office)

IJM also supports the efforts of the Supreme Court of the Philippines in providing guidance under the Strategic Plan for Judicial Innovations 2022-2027 (SPJI). This has laid down three (3) major outcomes, namely, Efficiency, Innovation and Access towards the ultimate goal which is to deliver timely justice for all. Under Access, SPJI aims to enhance public access to information and legal services. One of the proposed projects is the “Issuance of Guidelines for Victim Sensitive Courts” which is consistent with IJM’s own advocacies.

The Judicial Congress, and the following activities, have and will continue to play an important role in combatting OSAEC in the Philippines. As trauma-informed and child protection strategies continue to be integrated into courts across the country, more children will be protected, and the restorative goals of the justice system will serve to protect and heal more individuals and communities.

Access the Philippine Supreme Court’s official Press Release: Supreme Court of the Philippines. (2024, January 26). Chief Justice Gesmundo Urges Family Court Judges to Build on Skill and Sensitivity, Secure Children’s General Welfare [Press release]

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