Laws fail to protect kids from online sexual exploitation

Neil Jayson Servallos - The Philippine Star
Laws fail to protect kids from online sexual exploitation
The CRN said this failure is evidenced by the alarming increase of foreign perpetrators and involvement of families in trafficking their children.
Pixabay / File

MANILA, Philippines — Philippine laws meant to address online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) have failed, the Child Rights Network (CRN) said over the weekend.

The CRN said this failure is evidenced by the alarming increase of foreign perpetrators and involvement of families in trafficking their children.

The group pointed out that while the Cybercrime Prevention Act, Anti-Child Pornography Act and Anti-Child Abuse Law are the most referenced laws for OSEC cases, they failed to define OSEC as a distinct and separate crime and impose certain punishments against it.

In calling out lawmakers to address the gaps in legislation, the CRN lamented how there is no “all-encompassing” law that clearly includes the full range of OSEC activities like recruitment and online technology, stages of commission, participation in the offense, and corresponding penalties.

 “These laws do not clearly define OSEC, punish the livestreaming of child sexual abuse and impose obligations on private sector to prevent OSEC,” CRN convenor Romero Dongeto said in a forum.

Other gaps in the system to address OSEC include the failure of internet service providers to block and filter sites carrying child sexual abuse materials. 

 The group also stressed the importance of having clearly imposed obligations on private entities like banks, money remittance centers, credit card companies, hotels, inns and lessors when it comes to shutting down OSEC.

How bad is it? 

Latest government data showed that in 2018 alone, at least 600,000 naked and sexualized photos and videos of Filipino children were shared and sold on the internet. Out of these cases, only 27 perpetrators were convicted.

This marks a 1,300-percent increase from the previous year, which yielded 45,645 OSEC incidents.

Brig. Gen. Alessandro Abella, chief of the Philippine National Police-Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC), said conviction rates have become higher since more international law enforcement agencies have aided local police in nabbing foreign perpetrators.

“The United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security have been coordinating with our office. They are the ones tracking the transactions of their citizens,” Abella said.

PNP data showed that foreigners in the Philippines preying on Filipinos aged 18 and below were mostly from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Australia. Abella said there were also a number of Filipino perpetrators.

 CRN said local law enforcers have limited capacity and expertise in conducting rescues and in building criminal investigations on OSEC, prompting the need for heavy involvement of international police counterparts.

Global source of OSEC material 

The Philippines is a top global source of child sex abuse materials, according to international organizations, with victims as young as two months old.

 In August 2019, two child sex traffickers in Naval, Biliran were nabbed for allegedly sexually exploiting six minors online, including their two-month-old child.

 “The involvement of children’s own families as crime facilitators and the increasing number of foreign perpetrators are equally alarming,” said Unicef goodwill ambassador Daphne Oseña Paez.

 “Online sexual abuse and exploitation of children is an egregious form of violence against the most vulnerable sector of the population and an issue that affects many nations as well,” she said.

 The Unicef cited poverty, internet and smartphone access, prevailing social norms, change in parenting dynamics due to migration and ease in speaking English as some of the primary drivers of online sex in the Philippines.

Unsupervised internet use

The CRN said one out of three internet users in the Philippines is a minor, and 90 percent of them can access the internet freely and without supervision. 

 Facebook, one of the most used platforms in child sex abuse materials, said it takes down 99.5 percent of the millions of abusive content monthly, but a few thousand pieces could still slip past their technology.

 “We need you to report anything we’re not catching. We have to work together to keep each other safe online,” said Snow White Smelser, Facebook Philippines safety police manager.

 Mariz Peñaredonda, child representative of Bahay Tuluyan, said internet and social media have been instrumental in students’ schoolwork and other learning activities.

 However, the fact that young people suffer sexual exploitation and violence online with little to no help accorded them or apprehensions made against the perpetrators have made these tools equally dangerous.

“My friends can’t tell anyone because they are at risk of bullying and discrimination. Even with their parents who respond dismissively by scolding them instead and blaming them for such incidents, saying ‘they were asking for it,’” Peñaredonda said in Filipino.

Nat’l strategy needed

Independent UN human rights experts said governments like the Philippines’ need to implement comprehensive national strategies and victim-centered laws to prevent child exposure to sexual exploitation and other abuses online.

On the celebration of Safer Internet Day, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, expressed concern over an unprecedented spike in reports of child sexual abuse material online.

She said the scale and complexity of this problem causes enormous harm on children of this generation.

“By virtue of their commitments under several human rights treaties, states have the primary responsibility to establish a comprehensive legal framework and strategies to protect children in the digital environment, encompassing the early detection of cases, appropriate services, child-friendly reporting mechanisms and effective remedies,” UN experts said. 

“Victim-centered laws and policies are of paramount importance and perpetrators must be held to account,” they said.

According to the experts, “States must ensure that the IT [information technology] industry has mechanisms to detect, report and block child sexual exploitation material.”

De Boer-Buquicchio called for the IT industry to provide more resources and technical expertise to curb online abuse.

She also pointed out that “financial coalitions” against child pornography have significantly impacted the detection of abuse and must be expanded.

For their part, states “must establish tools to monitor the hosting of child abuse materials within their jurisdictions. They must also ensure that the private sector is effectively collaborating with law enforcement, to guarantee that their networks and services are not misused for criminal purposes and to gather evidence for criminal proceedings.” – With Pia Lee-Brago



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