COVID-19 worsening online sexual abuse cases â Unicef
UNICEF has conducted two major studies related to child online protection: the Philippine Kids Online Survey and the National Study on Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children.
STAR/ File
COVID-19 worsening online sexual abuse cases – Unicef
Pia Lee Brago (The Philippine Star) - September 17, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the incidence of online sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

UNICEF has conducted two major studies related to child online protection: the Philippine Kids Online Survey and the National Study on Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children.

The studies reveal that 90 percent of Filipino children can access the internet whenever they want or need to, and 59 percent connect to the internet without supervision. It also revealed that two in 10 children are vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and abuse.

“Children are increasingly becoming victims of circumstances that are harmful to their development and well-being. This must stop,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.

One study looked into the behavior, opportunities and risks that children encounter when navigating the internet. Another sought to provide a deeper understanding on the issue of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children by looking at three pillars: characteristics of the child/victim and of the perpetrator/offender; role of the private sector and the case management resolution.

As children stay at home due to quarantine restrictions, UNICEF said they are at increased risk of online sex trafficking and exploitation.

According to the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Philippines is considered the number one source of child pornography and a source of income for many living in the margins of society.

Children who have been sexually abused online exhibit behavior that cause them to socially isolate themselves. The child has no interest in school and friends. Having low self-esteem, trauma and nightmares are also signs to consider. There may also be unexplained bleeding of the genital areas and bruises. Unaddressed, these symptoms can lead to mental health problems, suicide, alcohol abuse and dependency on illegal drugs.

“It does not have to be this way. Parents and family members are encouraged to express interest in their kids’ day-to-day lives, get to know their friends, carefully choose babysitters and caregivers for their children,” UNICEF said. “Parents should also adapt to the digital age to better guide their children in using  gadgets and online platforms.”

UNICEF is continuously working to combat online sex abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC).

UNICEF also supported the development of the National Response Plan to address OSAEC, which is led by the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The UN agency engages different sectors of society in raising awareness and teaching children, parents, caregivers on how to protect their children from online violence. Training the justice sector on how to handle cases of OSAEC is also a key component of UNICEF’s work.

UNICEF is leading the implementation of SaferKidsPH, a six-year program that aims to reduce the prevalence of OSAEC in the Philippines by strengthening government child protection systems.

In partnership with Save the Children, the Asia Foundation and the Australian government, it works with children and their families, the Philippine government, civil society and the private sector to ensure that children are safe and protected online. It envisions that if positive behaviors are practiced, support systems and processes resolve OSAEC cases and services are improved to prevent and protect children in hotspot communities, then children will not have to suffer.

These interventions, UNICEF said, will only work if society comes together to protect children. Those who witness online sexual abuse of children must report immediately to child support organizations such as Action Against Human Trafficking (1343 for Metro Manila; 021343 outside Metro Manila), Bantay Bata (163), and Philippine Red Cross (143).

“The fight against online sexual abuse and exploitation is everybody’s fight. We ask all concerned agencies, our children and their parents and our local communities to join us in combating this grave and egregious violation of our children’s rights. Every child has the right to survive and thrive in a safe and secure environment, whether online or offline,” Dendevnorov said.

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