At the height of the lockdown regime, Filipino families sought refuge and connection with family, friends, and even the rest of the world through the internet.
Isolated in their homes, Filipinos used cyberconnections not just for maintaining relations with loved ones but also for conducting business, attending remote conferences or meetings, shopping for food deliveries and other necessities, seeking entertainment, and for children and students attending cyberclasses or for adults taking part in tutorials on anything from cooking to crafts to foreign languages.
But as with any convenience and technological advance, unlimited access to the wonders of the internet also brought with it attendant risks. One of the most prominent would have to be the tremendous, appalling increase in internet-based child sexual exploitation.
The Philippines, in fact, has been identified as a “global hotspot” for online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC).
Reports say that the number of cases of OSEC has tripled in the last three years, with the International Justice Mission (IJM) reporting that 41 percent of the abuse cases were facilitated by biological parents and 42 percent by other relatives, or at least 83 percent by people related to the child victims.
Even more critically, the Department of Justice-Office of Cybercrime (DOJ-OOC) reported that there has been a 264.63 percent increase in the number of reported OSEC between March 1 and May 24, compared to the same period last year.
The increase in the cybersexual exploitation of children is explained by the DOJ-OOC as due to “the fact that during the enhanced community quarantine, strict quarantine is observed in all households, and internet usage surges as people stay home.”
The Child Rights Network (CRN), which counts 44 organizations and agencies across the country, has called for an “all-out war” against OSEC, with CRN convener Romeo Dongeto saying it is necessary to “resolutely shut down these hideous acts committed against children.”
In a statement, the CRN posits that “with the widening availability of internet connection in the Philippines, and with the ECQ prompting children to spend more time online, sexual predators find it easier to prey on children.”
To be sure, the concerned government agencies have begun moving against those involved in this sickening trade. Last March 11, the DOJ-OCC met with internet service providers (ISPs) to “remind” them of their duties to install “available technology, program or software to ensure that access or transmittal of any form of child pornography would be blocked or filtered pursuant to… the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.”
Eleven years after the passage of this law, however, says the DOJ-OOC, “ISP companies continue to be remiss in their duties.” It reminded these companies that protecting Filipino children and blocking child pornography are part of the requirements for ISP companies to retain their franchises.
There have been movements in other fields, too.
Last April 22, a woman suspected of engaging in cybersex trafficking of minors, including her own children, was arrested by police. Rescued by law enforcers were seven children, all but one of them male, ages 3 to 14, with four of them the suspect’s own children.
This was the second police operation against an OSEC enterprise; the previous raid was conducted with support from the United States Homeland Security Investigations and the IJM.
Last May 26, David Timothy Deakin, 55, became the first foreigner to be convicted of trafficking offenses through online proceedings in the country, the IJM said.
Deakin was sentenced to life imprisonment and was ordered to pay a fine of P2 million in addition to paying each of his victims P500,000 representing moral damages, and an additional P100,000 as exemplary damages as civil indemnity for his crimes.
Still, much remains to be done. Surveillance and monitoring of internet operations involved in OSEC will have to be stepped up, including the prosecution of ISPs found to have been hosting such activities.
But we cannot stop at mere law enforcement and prosecution. Filipinos—as a society and as individuals, especially as parents—need to look deep into their hearts and child-rearing practices to understand why children remain vulnerable to exploitation by the adults in their lives.
We need to correct the social expectation that children are the mere property of their elders, to be disciplined, exploited, and victimized as the adults wish.
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