Getting away with child exploitation
As early as April, various advocacy groups have warned that the online sexual abuse of children could increase during the COVID-19 quarantine period.
True enough, the Philippine Department of Justice revealed on Monday that reports of online sexual exploitation of children in the country surged by 264 percent between March 1 and May 24.
Perpetrators of child sexual abuse have exceeded expectations. Not only have their activities increased in frequency, they have also become much bolder. They are now on Facebook and Twitter, the two most widely used social networks in the country.
If before, we thought of child exploitation as a heavily concealed underbelly of the internet, relegated only to the dark corners of the deep web and accessible only through highly furtive networks, these days, the sick explicit content can be found with just a simple hashtag.
Separate investigative reports from Esquire Philippines and Rappler spotlight an array of Facebook groups where child pornography is offered, and Twitter hashtags that lead to explicit material being sold for as low as P100.
No need for specialized dark web software or private links to obscure websites. The exchanges are on everyday social media, clear as day.
This begs the question: Why are online child abusers getting away with it so easily?
“We have a lot of laws already,” said lawyer Stephanie Tan of the Children’s Legal Bureau during a symposium. “What we really need is the implementation.”
Indeed, we already have the Cybercrime Prevention Act (Republic Act No. 10175), the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse Act (RA 7610), and the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act (RA 9262), to name a few.
But despite these laws, the thriving community of child abusers on social media is proof that little has been done to deter them, much less bring them to justice.
Considering that the sexual abuse of children is not a new issue in the country, it’s frustrating how slowly and feebly our law enforcement bares its teeth.
A recent study from the International Justice Mission even found that majority—64 percent—of online child sexual abuse cases in the Philippines were initiated by foreign authorities because ours lacked detection capability.
An obvious mitigating strategy that’s been brought up over and over is for the tech industry to step up. Internet service providers and social networks are called on to strengthen their content filtering and reporting mechanisms (which are already in place—just not fast enough or precise enough, it seems).
Doing so would likely earn them the ire of some who would play the “free speech” card. But the sexual abuse and exploitation of children is no longer an issue of free speech. It is a crime, and it ought to be reported to the authorities.
However, stopping this “secret pandemic” of abuse is not solely the responsibility of tech companies. It is a multifaceted issue of technology, poverty, education, and human rights awareness.
It is crucial to note that among the top perpetrators of child sexual abuse are their own family members who resort to peddling minors to alleviate their household’s financial situation. As a result, the abuse becomes normalized to the children themselves.
Writing for The Guardian in 2016, Oliver Holmes gave us a gut-wrenching portrait of Filipino children who were cybersexually exploited.
He revealed how the children were “entangled in their own abuse,” sometimes even instigating their own livestream “shows” since they saw that that was how their family got money.
The sexual abuse of children online is therefore a challenge not just to the technology industry, but also to educators, social workers, mental health professionals, and economic policymakers.
It will take a lot of careful work to mitigate the conditions that lead to abuse, and to delicately untangle the long-term harm it creates in the young.
It is also a challenge for us, netizens, to be watchful and unafraid to speak up. To report pages, groups, or content that foster online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, we can contact:
PNP Aleng Pulis: +63-919-777-7377 or 0966-725-5961
Action Against Human Trafficking: 1343 within Metro Manila; (02) 1343 outside Metro Manila
Bantay Bata: 163
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