By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
A group promoting children’s rights and welfare urged the government and other stakeholders to “work together” to protect children from online sexual abuse and exploitation.
Save the Children Philippines (SCP) called on the government, civil society organizations, the private sector, parents, teachers, and the media to work together in protecting children especially from online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC).
“Addressing the drivers of online violence requires strengthening the country’s child protection system,” said Save the Children Philippines Chief Executive Officer Atty. Albert Muyot. “This means the government should pass and implement laws and policies that would protect children from OSAEC, have prevention programs and accessible services for children and their families, implement widespread information dissemination on OSAEC, and prosecute those who are exploiting our children and women through the use of information, communication technologies,” he added.
The SCP made the call as part of the National Awareness Week for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation from Feb. 10 to 14 as well as in time for the celebration of the “Safer Internet Day” on Feb. 11.
Muyot, who is a former Undersecretary of the Department of Education (DepEd), also emphasized the importance of the government allocating resources to sustainably support efforts to combat this issue and the importance of the private sector’s involvement particularly the Internet Service Providers and the business owners who operate internet shops that can be used by children in accessing the internet.
“Safety measures must be put in place to make sure that children who are using the internet are protected,” Muyot explained. The SCP underscored the need for communities to help raise awareness on online safety particularly for children and the “important role of all adults in helping protect children online.”
Citing Philippine government’s National Baseline Study on Violence against Children (NBS-VAC), SCP noted that one in two (1 in 2) Filipino children experience online abuse with one in four (1 in 4) being exposed to sexually explicit content.
In the said study, it was also noted that children said they have been “sent sexual messages (29%) and some (3%) said they have shared images of themselves nude or their sexual activities on the internet or through their mobile phones.”
SCP noted that there are also “several factors that contribute to the persistence of this issue in the country such as 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 that is taking place.”
The Systematic Literature Review (SLR) of the Drivers of Violence identified the following as the drivers of online violence: poverty, broken homes, poor parenting, consumerism, peer influence, family values, and socio-cultural beliefs and norms.
Role of Families and Schools
Engaging in risky online behavior is common for Filipino children according to the SLR, and because of their largely unsupervised internet use, children are at great risk for online sexual solicitation and grooming. Hence, Save the Children believes that “families and schools play a crucial role in keeping children safe online.”
“The family should provide the first layer of protection for children,” said Save the Children Child Protection Advisor Wilma Bañaga. “A good relationship between parents and their children will ensure that they will listen to their parent’s advice, and that the parent can respectfully monitor their children’s use of the internet,” she added.
Bañaga added that “parents should spend time with their children doing fun things that do not use gadgets such as reading together or playing games/sports outdoors.” She explained that parents “should also take the time to educate their kids on how they can protect themselves online, which also means that they should also be knowledgeable on the safe use of the internet and social media.”
SCP also urged parents to “be able to provide for their children’s basic needs, which not only includes food, shelter and education but also a warm and nurturing environment” and “provide proper guidance and be good role models to their children.”
Bañaga said that “if the family is unable to provide this for whatever reason, the government should give them the necessary support such as parenting sessions and livelihood opportunities.”
The SCP also appealed to the schools to make use of the Cybersafe modules developed by the DepEd to “teach learners on the safe use of digital technology.”
Save the Children Philippines is a member of SaferkidsPH consortium together with UNICEF and the Asia Foundation. SaferKidsPH, an Australian Government initiative, is working towards reducing the incidence of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines. It works with children and their families, the Philippine Government, civil society and the private sector to ensure that children are safe and protected online.