The fight vs online sexual abuse of children | Inquirer Opinion

The fight vs online sexual abuse of children

Online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, or OSAEC for short, are horrific and very damaging crimes that have no place in civilized society. Unfortunately, in the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund’s (Unicef) final report on a national study on OSAEC published in 2021, the Philippines is still considered as a world center for child sex abuse materials, with some 80 percent of Filipino children seen as vulnerable to such abuse that are sometimes facilitated by their parents. The study was conducted together with the social welfare department and De La Salle University’s (DLSU) Social Development Research Center.

The distinction is not something our country should be associated with, as to say that this is embarrassing would be quite an understatement. It goes without saying that this is a scourge we need to eliminate and deal with effectively, with the government rightfully taking steps toward this objective.

On July 30, 2022, Republic Act No. 11930 lapsed into law. The Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) and Anti-Child Sexual Abuse or Exploitation Materials (CSAEM) Act was welcomed by child rights groups and advocates in the country as it provides a holistic response for stronger online child safety. It also plugs fundamental loopholes in existing laws and regulations concerning OSAEC, some of which have been pointed out in the 2021 Unicef report. Examples of these loopholes or “conflicts” when investigating and prosecuting OSAEC cases are laws dealing with data privacy and online financial transactions.

RA 11930 appears to potentially be a useful and effective tool in the fight against OSAEC in terms of law enforcement and measures to make cyberspace safer for children while helping victims deal with the trauma and reintegrate into society. However, to effectively fight against OSAEC, we also need to understand the underlying causes and root of the problem. Why is it so widespread in our country?


A two-year study released in 2024 by the London-based organization Justice and Care, DLSU-Manila, and Dublin City University titled, “Facilitation of Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children in the Philippines,” provides some valuable insights. The study provides analysis and recommendations for better detection, deterrence, and prevention of OSAEC. The primary motivation of facilitators of OSAEC, the report said, is economic as they tend to be living in extreme poverty and/or need to support extended families. Majority of the facilitators are female aged 25 to 50, usually a member of the family or a trusted friend of the victims.

But economic need wasn’t the only motivating factor; there’s also the temptation to easily make more money through this illicit activity compared to a regular job. A contagion effect was also observed during the study and found to have an effect on the motivation of OSAEC facilitators as they learn of these “financial advantages” from other community members. The facilitators tend to be former victims as well, which points to a cycle of abuse that tends to perpetuate OSAEC in a community.

The study basically identifies the following critical steps toward effective prevention and intervention strategies when dealing with OSAEC: reducing retraumatization and secondary victimization of children; addressing the contagion effect, and strengthening the enabling environment of online platforms. It also recommends strengthening the global response aimed at tackling demand for online sexual exploitation in the Philippines as this demand is significantly driven by foreigners.

As can be seen, this is a complex and sensitive problem that requires a holistic approach. Having necessary legislation, however robust and effective it is, and going after facilitators and offenders driving demand won’t be enough. The root of the problem, which isn’t just economic in nature, will require the government, law enforcement, the private sector, and civil society organizations to work hand-in-hand to break the cycle of abuse and ensure that cyberspace not only becomes safer for children, but also avoid retraumatizing the victims by upholding their psychological well-being for easier reintegration into society.


It’s one thing to be known for having horrible traffic conditions in Metro Manila or one of the worst international airports in the world, and quite another to be considered a global hotspot for the sexual abuse and exploitation of children online. This should never be acceptable to us as Filipinos. This is a fight we must wage together, and a fight we need to win.



Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer and was posted as a diplomat at the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles, and the Philippine Embassy in Washington.

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