FAST FACTS: Why online sexual exploitation of children happens in the Philippines

With Filipinos consecutively topping the world in terms of social media use, there is a lot of room for abusers to engage in sexual exploitation of children behind closed doors and in front of a webcam.

The Philippines has been dubbed by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) the “global epicenter of the live-stream sexual abuse trade.” One in 5 Filipino children are vulnerable to online sexual exploitation. (READ: Stolen: Pretty Girls)

Even with the Philippines at Tier 1 of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report since 2016, which means it meets the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking, the problem remains rampant over the country. Unicef even tagged the country as the top global source of child pornography in 2017.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Cybercrime received at least 600,000 cybertips of sexual images of Filipino children in 2018. This is more than a 1,000% increase from the previous 45,645 in 2017. (READ: PH government, private sector launch joint campaign against online child sexual abuse)

Officials from the DOJ and the Philippine National Police (PNP) reported continuous training of their front liners for prosecuting the evolving crime. But why are so many children in the Philippines still in danger of being sexually exploited online?

Easy deed

Unicef and the Child Rights Network reported that a number of factors in the Philippines allow for easy proliferation of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC). These include:

  • widespread poverty and resorting to OSEC as a form of income
  • cheap internet and smartphones
  • ability to speak English well
  • wide availability of money remittance centers
  • prevailing norms of secrecy
  • lack of parental supervision, sometimes caused by parents having to work abroad
  • lack of resources to investigate and prosecute perpetrators, and rescue and rehabilitate victims

Unicef also noted the “alarming” involvement of children’s own family members as crime facilitators. (READ: [OPINION | Dash of SAS] Online sexual exploitation of children is a family business)

Weak investigations

Out of thousands of reports in 2018, only 27 convictions of OSEC perpetrators were made, according to the 2019 TIP report.

The TIP report also said that even though the government has continued to demonstrate serious efforts, it “did not vigorously investigate and prosecute officials allegedly involved in trafficking crimes.”

In October 2019, the Department of Social Welfare and Management (DSWD) said that internet service providers (ISP) have not been fulfilling their part in the anti-child pornography law, which is to inform the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation within a week of receiving knowledge of child porn engagement on their servers.

Insufficient laws

OSEC crimes fall under various laws like the anti-child pornography and cybercrime prevention acts, but there is no current all-encompassing law that clearly includes the full range of OSEC activities. According to the Child Rights Network, these include:

  • recruitment and online technology
  • stages of commission
  • participation in the offense
  • corresponding penalties

While there are pending bills in Congress that aim to strengthen penalties against child abuse and raise the minimum age of sexual consent, an all-encompassing bill for OSEC has yet to be filed.

Philippine laws related to OSEC have gaps of needed protection. For instance, the anti-child pornography law of 2009 does not explicitly cover livestreaming of sexual content and the role of social media in OSEC.

However, the DOJ and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) are in the process of crafting a Child Online Safeguarding Policy which issues guidelines for protecting children on the internet.

To report cases of OSEC, call 1343 for Metro Manila and 02-1343 for outside Metro Manila. You can also report cases online at www.1343actionline.ph– Rappler.com

Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a researcher-writer at Rappler. Possessing the heart and soul of a feminist, she is working on specializing in women's issues in Newsbreak, Rappler's investigative arm.

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