Australia and the Philippines making the web a safer place for children

AUSSIE DIPLOMACY MATTERS - Steven J. Robinson (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2019 - 12:00am

We all know that technology is changing how we live. And mostly, these changes have been positive. Here in the Philippines, I’ve seen how the internet is being used to improve the wellbeing and welfare of children. It offers new pathways for education and bringing communities together. Unfortunately though, it is also being used by some as a platform to harm and exploit the vulnerable.

According to UNICEF, new technologies such as live streaming are contributing to rising incidents of cybercrime around the world, including in the Philippines. Sadly, it is estimated that 80 percent of these incidents in the Philippines involve online sexual exploitation and abuse of children. I was shocked to hear that one in five Filipino children between the ages of 13 and 17 years old reported that they had experienced sexual violence. You’ll all agree that we need to work together to stamp this out. 

That’s why Australia has made a long-term commitment to work with the Philippines Government and the private sector to improve the protection of Filipino children. 

Recently, Australia and the Philippines announced a new partnership to raise awareness of children’s online safety, and improve our ability to investigate and prosecute those engaged in this vile practice. This new six-year program, called SaferKidsPH, will also work with UNICEF, Save the Children Philippines, and the Asia Foundation.

I spoke at the recent launch of SaferKidsPH.  As a father and grandfather, it is difficult to comprehend that children are subject to such abhorrent crimes.  But face it we must, and I was heartened to hear of the efforts being made by many in government, civil society, and the private sector to address these issues.  It was also humbling to be in the presence of those who are working on the frontline to protect and rescue children.

Awareness raising is important. It is the first step towards increasing vigilance and taking action. In the longer term, the program will also do more to teach children about how to protect themselves online from those who seek to do them harm.  Such practical education is important to help prevent abuse from happening.  But it’s also critical that we match this with enforcement. 

That’s why the Australian Federal Police is working closely with the Philippine Internet Crime against Children Centre, in close partnership with the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation.  While the Centre was established only in February this year it is already making headway in targeting offenders.

Thirty years ago, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed in New York. In simple terms, it says that every child has rights, no matter who they are or where they live. While it was drafted at a time before the internet was part of our everyday life, it is clear that the Convention could not be more relevant than it is today.  So on the 30th anniversary of the Convention’s signing, I am proud that Australia and the Philippines are working more closely than ever to keep our children safe. 

We can all work together to make the internet a safer place for children. I urge you to play a part too. Please start by signing up at https://www.saferkidsph.org/

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(Steven J. Robinson AO is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines.  Follow him on Twitter @AusAmbPH)

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