The End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) in the Philippines has noted a 264 percent increase in the number of cases involving online sexual abuse and exploitation committed against children in the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
In a webinar organized by the Provincial Social Welfare and Development Office (PSWDO) and its partners on Wednesday, its chief Abigail Ablana, who is also the president of the Philippine Association of Social Worker Inc. (PASWI) Palawan Chapter, said that online sexual abuse and exploitation is harmful to the children, particularly during the pandemic.
She said that during a study with UNICEF, around 90 percent of Filipino children could access the internet and 50 percent of them can connect without permission and supervision.
“This pandemic has worsened online sexual abuse. 50 percent of our children can connect without supervision. So we also use this time to increase awareness against online sexual abuse and exploitation,” Ablaña said.
According to Ginno Rey Corral, project development officer of ECPAT, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has seen an increase of 264 percent in the number of cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation during the start of enhanced community quarantine.
“Tumaas ang number of persons na involved dito,” he said.
He said the while we enjoy life with technology it also has harmful effects on the children who are exposed to cyberspace without proper guidance because sexual offenders also target them to satisfy their lustful desires.
He said that due to technology, sexual offenders also improve their strategy to victimize, including asking for pictures of the children involved.
The internet, he said, is being used as an avenue to get the purpose of the offenders.
“Kailangan natin proteksyonan ang mga bata. Somehow nagiging bahagi ang online exploitation as human trafficking dahil puwedeng mag-travel ang kanilang mga images papunta sa ibang lugar virtually,” he said.
“Ang exploitation ay may bayad na o may kapalit pero kapag ni-rape ay sexual abuse but violence against children pa rin lahat ng ito. Ang sexual exploitation ay nagiging malala dahil ang mga bata ay tinuturing na sexual object or ginagawang kalakal, through the internet, or anything na may kapalit ang sexual favor,” Corral added.
He said that parents and guardians should properly guide their children in handling their social media accounts and other activities on the internet.
He said that children nowadays are dependent on technology. However, he emphasized that individuals below 18 are still considered as children or minors.
“Cyberspace becomes a very important part of many children, become a community, schoolyard and their neighborhood. Mobile Legend, Instagram, TikTok, ayon na ang mundo nila. Ang kanilang self esteem ay nakabase na sa likes, follows, comments, and views are taken seriously dahil nakikita na nila sa internet,” Corral said.
“Kahit nasa internet sila ay hindi nawawala ang pagiging bata nila, dapat may proteksyon sila. As long as below 18 sya dahil ‘yan ang sinasabi ng batas, hanggang di pa nya kaya proteksyunan ang sarili nila against violence,” he added.
He said that based on their study, poverty is one of the factors why there are still many people who join this illegal activity.
“Ang attraction ng malaking pera doon sa mga mahihirap na community. Dahil sa nature nyan ay may financial dimension. Mabilis mapagsalita ng English ang mga Filipino at iba pa,” he said.
He said that child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children are both the same violation to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Article 35 or the prevention from abduction of the safe or traffic in children for any purpose or any form and to the Article 34 or the protection of the child from sexual abuse and exploitation including prostitution and the use of children in pornographic materials.
It also covered by the RA 10364 or Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 and the RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
How to prevent exploitation and child abuse
Corral said that the government should implement existing laws related to combating online and offline sexual exploitation of children.
All local governments should strengthen local child protection mechanisms, public investment in children must be maximized, include children in planning and programming, and the private sector must be responsible.
“Dapat alam natin kung paano mahingi ang mga opinion ng mga bata, dahil alam nila kung anong platform ang mga trend ngayon. Mga private sectors na dapat makipagtulungan ay ang mga computer shops, mga pera padala, hotels to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation at ang community dapat maging vigilant, kahit hinila o kutob ay mahalaga ang magsumbong,” Corral said.
Edward Tiongco, CALABARZON ECPAT regional coordinator also said that local government units must strengthen their local council for the protection of children.
“Kahit sa loob ng tricyle ito ay puwedeng maganap lalo na kung walang kaugnayan ang bata doon sa perpetrator. Magkaroon din dapat ng polisiya ang money padala dahil sa kahirapan na walang nakikita na alternatibong paraan,” he said.
He said that people cannot deny the fact that children are vulnerable not necessarily that they are connected to the internet, they may be in school, street, or elsewhere they can be recruited.
Tiongco said that it is not about technology, but the behavior.
“Kahit hindi sila physical na nahawakan pero sila ay inabuso ay violation po to. Nandyan ang mga batas pero hanggat maari we prevent it para hindi sila maging victim,” he added.
ECPAT, with 110 civil society organizations in 100 countries, is a non-government organisation solely focusing to end the sexual exploitation of children.