2-M children in Philippines may have been victims of online sexual abuse last year — report

Angelica Y. Yang - Philstar.com
2-M children in Philippines may have been victims of online sexual abuse last year â report
This undated file photo shows children playing.
UNICEF / Joshua Estey, File

MANILA, Philippines — As many as 2 million Filipino children may have been subjected to online sexual abuse and exploitation last year, according to a new report. 

The estimate represents a scaled size of the Philippines' population, based on the findings of "Disrupting Harm in the Philippines," a report prepared by global network ECPAT, Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization) and the Italy-based Unicef Office of Research-Innocenti.

"[I]n the past year alone, 20% of internet-using children aged 12-17 in the Philippines were victims of grave instances of online sexual exploitation and abuse. This includes being blackmailed to engage in sexual activities, someone sharing their sexual images without permission, or being coerced to engage in sexual activities through promises of money or gifts," the report read.

This can mean that "two million children...were subjected to any of these harms in just one year", based on the report's estimates. 

The findings are based on a nationally-representative household survey, where interviews were conducted in person with 950 children aged 12-17 who use the internet, and a parent or caregiver of each minor. 

The survey only considered the insights of children who used the internet and who were staying at home. 

The fieldwork took place from Jan 11, 2021 to April 15, 2021.

Filipino children mostly experienced online child sexual exploitation and abuse (OCSEA) — or situations which involve the use of digital or communication technologies during the continuum of abuse or exploitation — on social media. 

The report also found that perpetuators of OCSEA in the Philippines are more likely to be unknown to the child, with up to 61% of minors saying they did not know who their offenders were as they mainly communicated over Facebook and Facebook Messenger. 

This is said to have implications for efforts in prevention and awareness-raising.

'Challenges persist'

The report noted that the country has a range of "promising initiatives" by both government and civil society, but some challenges like the varying levels of capacity among responders across the country, and the lack of tools for operations like early detection, child-friendly investigations and the resolution of such crimes, still exist. 

Interviews with law enforcement officials showed that their units face challenges in conducting investigations due to "limited human resources, high staff turnover, the lack of critical databases, and unmet needs for training and specialised equipment."

Meanwhile, interviews with three OCSEA survivors showed that rescue operations were not done in a child-friendly way, and that they found the operations "frightening."

Formal reporting of OCSEA was low among Filipino minors, since up to 4% of children only reported their cases to the police, a social worker or a healthline, according to the report. 

This even as several reporting channels, like the toll-free helpline Bantay Bata 163, law enforcement and other official bodies, are available. 

This may be due to some social norms such as discomfort in talking about sex, a lack of awareness of the risks of OCSEA and belief in the "no touch, no harm" where the absence of physical contact is deemed less harmful to the child. 

According to the report, the country needs to do more in implementing OCSEA-related laws, policies and standards, saying that the Philippines should give "more attention, prioritisation, and investment" to these frameworks. 

The full 116-page report may be accessed here. The report is part of global research project "Disrupting Harm" which seeks to understand how digital technology facilitates the sexual exploitation and abuse of minors across 13 countries. 

"Disrupting Harm" is funded by the United Nations-backed Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children under its "Safe Online Initiative."

Last month, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11648, which raises the age of sexual consent to those 16 and above. Child rights groups are certain that the law will protect Filipino teens from sexual violence, while the Commission on Population and Development (Popcom) also believes this sends a chilling effect to abusers.

Reported cases of sexual abuse or assault on minors have already reached 1,407 from January to end-March this year, according to the Manila-based non-government organization Child Protection Network. 

The figure accounts for majority or 73% of the cases of violence against children.

The Philippines is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires member-states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with