By Roy Mabasa
The Philippines remains in the list of top 10 countries with the highest cases of online sexual exploitation of children where many parents even act as perpetrators, a coalition to protect the children said on Monday.
“Some parents say that it’s easy money (engaging children in online sexual exploitation), that’s why we need to educate the communities to work with parents,” said Save the Children Executive Officer Albert Muyot during the launch of SaferKidsPH at the Australian Embassy in Makati City.
SaferKidsPH is a six-year program aimed at reducing online sexual exploitation in the Philippines.
The Aus$9 million (Php298 million)-funded program will be implemented by a consortium composed of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Save the Children, The Asia Foundation, and the Australian Embassy in the Philippines from 2019 to 2025.
In the Philippines, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Cybercrime received a total of 45,645 tip-offs in 2017 on sexual images of Filipino children from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
The number further ballooned to 600,000 in 2018, according to a fact sheet provided by the SaferKidsPH.
Muyot, who was a former undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), said parents would even make their children cut their classes just so they can adjust to the preferred times of their customers.
“There are cases where students are being asked to perform based on their gender preferences of perpetrators. Parents themselves were the ones who forced their children to miss schools for this (online sexual exploitation) that’s why we really need to work at that level. At the level of the family, barangay and the community,” he said.
Muyot explained that online sexual exploitation of children continues to persist in the country because of several factors that include the lack of capacity of families to support their children’s basic needs, and the prevailing notion that the lack of physical contact means there is no abuse or exploitation taking place.
Muyot said the consortium program will help strengthen engagement with children in schools, parents and communities to protect children from online sexual abuse.
“There is still a culture of silence surround this issue in the Philippines because it is being tolerated in many communities as an acceptable way of earning money,” said Muyot.
UNICEF country representative Julia Rees, for her part, raised concern on the active presence of children in the online platforms, “making them vulnerable to online sexual abuse and exploitation.”
“One in three internet users is a child,” said Rees. “While the government has been trying to respond to the demand, breadth, scope and agility of the technology-not to mention the extreme accessibility of digital platforms – there must be more that we can do together to protect our children,” she added.
The National Baseline Survey on Violence Against Children in 2016 shows that nearly one in two children aged 13-17 experienced cyber violence while one in four children are being exposed to sexually explicit content such as being shown videos and photos of sex organs and sexual activities of other people.
Online sexual exploitation and abuse of children (OSEC) is a modern-day human trafficking and transnational issue that affects not just the Philippines, but even Australia.