A viral intergenerational disease | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

A viral intergenerational disease

/ 05:07 AM February 13, 2021

Lockdowns were conceived to protect families from getting infected with COVID-19, the viral disease that has assumed pandemic proportions. While adults were allowed to leave home to work or meet the family’s basic necessities, seniors and children were prohibited from leaving home unless armed with a health clearance and on an urgent matter.

Such an extreme form of “social distancing” for those seen as most vulnerable to the virus is believed to have kept the number of COVID-19 cases in the country to a manageable level. But it has also spawned a “disease” that, while not new, is now proliferating wildly and mutating into various forms.

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That disease is violence against women and children, and its most alarming form is the sexual abuse of minors, which has found its most efficient and dangerous expression in what is known as OSEC, or online sexual exploitation of children.

Quarantined at home, with plenty of idle time save for an hour or two of online classes, and with a plethora of devices at hand—from cell phones to tablets, to laptops and desktops—Filipino children are increasingly vulnerable to sexual predators on the internet.

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Most shockingly and dismayingly, in many cases, the children’s exploitation is being carried out by the people who are supposed to protect them and nurture them: their parents. Lotta Sylwander, speaking for Unicef, says that the “main perpetrators” are family members, with many citing the element of “nonphysical contact” as an excuse since the abusers don’t touch their child, making it a “safe” transaction.

According to the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC), since February 2019, 320 children have been rescued from operators engaged in OSEC, with 77 suspects or facilitators charged and four offenders convicted. But since the lockdowns were imposed last year, the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has reported a 209-percent (or more than double) increase in cyber-tip reports for the Philippines relating to OSEC.

Economic hardships arising from the quarantine have also led to an upsurge in OSEC, with the Anti-Money Laundering Council reporting a 156-percent increase in suspicious transactions linked to OSEC valued at P113 million.

Today, says Unicef, the country is considered to be “the epicenter” of the livestream sexual abuse trade and the “number one global source of child pornography.” Per a Channel News Asia report, the justice department receives more than 3,000 reports from overseas of possible cybersex trafficking cases every month.

In response, the government has linked arms with private groups and international bodies to address OSEC in the country. Recently, the National Telecommunications Commission issued show-cause orders to 47 internet service providers (ISPs) over alleged violations of the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009. The law mandates ISPs to inform civilian law enforcement agencies upon discovery of any child porn materials running through their servers, while ensuring that their company’s hardware and software are updated with the technology needed to block web pages that promote or show images of children naked or posed provocatively, if not engaged in actual sex acts. Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar has also said that an executive order strengthening cooperation among the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography, and other relevant agencies is being drafted. Stiffer penalties against ISPs ignoring the law or not responding adequately to the law’s requirements have also been imposed by the President.

And yet, the sexual exploitation of children continues unabated, driven to greater scope and number by the hardships of the pandemic. “Every case is shocking,” says Victor Lorenzo of the National Bureau of Investigation’s cybercrime division, quoted in the Channel News Asia report. “No matter how hard you try to shield yourself from emotions, you just can’t.” Sam Inocencio, national director of the International Justice Mission which is working with government to curb the practice, reveals that “The youngest victim IJM has rescued is a three-month old baby.”

One wonders what the impact will be on the future of the country when thousands of sexually exploited children mature into adults. As is often the case with other forms of violence, children who are physically or sexually abused often grow into adults who will in turn abuse others, including or especially those most vulnerable to them: their spouses, wives, or children. The country must do all it can to stop this form of abuse from growing and spreading and infecting the rest of society. It’s time such intergenerational forms of violence and exploitation are dealt with hard, and ended for good.

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TAGS: abuse, Editorial, lockdown, Quarantine, Violence, violence against women and children
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