NGOs cast fear over rising cases of abuse, exploitation of children online

NGOs cast fear over rising cases of abuse, exploitation of children online
From slums in the Philippines to Australia’s suburbs, the cross-border crime has mushroomed as offenders take advantage of school closures and lockdowns to reach children – either in person or via social media, gaming sites and the dark web.
Pixabay / File

MANILA, Philippines — Coinciding with the commemoration of Safer Internet Day in the Philippines, non-government organizations joined calls for a safer and better internet for children, casting fear over the sharp increase in cases of online abuse and exploitation of young people amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a statement sent to media, nonprofit Save the Children Philippines said that the pandemic "is no longer a health crisis but a child rights crisis that must be addressed with urgency."

“Online sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a silent pandemic that has permanent, and devastating effects on children’s mental health and psychosocial well-being,” Alberto Muyot, chief executive officer of Save the Children Philippines, said in the statement. 

Muyot, a lawyer and former education undersecretary, added that the nonprofit supports Malacañang’s call to strengthen the campaign against OSAEC by monitoring the strict implementation of Republic Act 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009. 

In a separate statement, the Child Rights Network Philippines said that it would be joining a month-long joint advocacy campaign with SaferKidsPH and the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography "to reach out to more children and young people, and raise their awareness on how to protect themselves from online dangers."

"The age at which Filipino children first go online is, on average, 10 years old, and nearly half of the Filipino children think that the Internet is not safe for them," the group said. 

With mainland Luzon under enhanced community quarantine, the justice department said in May, online child sexual exploitation cases rose by 264.6%. 

Other agencies both local and abroad have acknowledged the disturbing trend. The US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported a 209% increase in the cyber tip reports for the Philippines, from January to December 2020 (1,294,750 cyber tips) compared to 2019 (418,422 cyber tips), coinciding with the pandemic, CRN said.

"Likewise, the Anti-Money Laundering Council reported a 156% increase in the suspicious transactions linked to child sexual abuse and exploitation valued at P113 million, from 2019 to the first half of 2020," the group added. 

According to the Palace, what has been alarming as of late is that victims of similar activities have a median age of 11 years old, part of the younger age groups told to stay home and greatly exposed to online activities while prohibited from going out. 

Wilma Banaga, who serves as child protection advisor for Save the Children Philippines, also said in the group's statement that parents, guardians and other relatives must understand that they have the responsibility to meet the needs of children, and to protect them from any form of abuse and exploitation. 

“Parents and other adults who are taking care of children should provide the necessary support and guidance to help protect children from online sexual abuse and exploitation particularly now that they are increasingly going online because of the pandemic,” she said.   

— Franco Luna with a report from Kristine Joy Patag






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