Poverty fueling online sexual exploitation of Filipino children: NGO coalition

Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 01 2019 04:50 PM

MANILA - A coalition of six international nongovernment organizations has called for stronger implementation of laws and programs seeking to protect children in the Philippines following challenges in fully immunizing children, cases of online sexual exploitation, and gaps in delivering quality education.

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, NGO coalition Joining Forces Philippines released a report summarizing the current situation of Filipino children.

The coalition includes ChildFund Alliance, Plan International, Save the Children, SOS Children’s Villages, Terre des Hommes, and World Vision. 

ONLINE SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN

Despite laws seeking to make the internet a safe place, the report said the government “has yet to show significant results” in curbing commercial sexual exploitation of children, especially online.

It cited data showing over 600,000 tips of images and videos of naked, sexualized and abused Filipino children received by the Department of Justice in 2018. This figure is 1,300 percent higher compared to the 45,645 recorded in 2017. 

According to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report of 2019, of the thousands of reports in 2018, only 27 perpetrators of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) were convicted.

“Due to the laxity of the implementation of extant laws against online child exploitation, and the pervasiveness and ease of access to devices that are needed to facilitate interactions, it is easy for perpetrators to lure children into OSEC,” the report said.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development added that poverty is the “major driving factor” for online sexual abuse among children.

“Most children become victims because of their parents and they are pushed to doing this, mainly because of the issue on poverty,” Maricel Deloria, DSWD’s Assistant Bureau Director for Program Management said.

To address the root of the problem, Deloria said the agency implements sustainable livelihood programs, which seek to assist poor families. The DSWD also holds parenting effectivity seminars that tackle OSEC, for beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

The DOJ, meanwhile, clarified that the number of sexualized and abused Filipino children online is less than the number of tips it received.

“Hindi ibig sabihin na mayroong 600,000 na bata ‘yung may kaso ng online sexual exploitation… Every time na mashe-share siya, it’s counted as one. So pwedeng 10,000 lang ‘yan, 5,000 lang ‘yung incidents,” DOJ Assistant Secretary George Ortha II explained.

(It doesn't mean there are 600,000 children complained of online sexual exploitation. Every time the case is shared, it is counted as one. So it could be 10,000 or 5,000 incidents.)

Ortha stressed that apart from the effective implementation of laws on OSEC, the community also has a huge role to play in preventing online sexual exploitation of children.

“Hindi ito kaya ng gobyerno lamang. Bawat isang tao kailangan makipagtulungan. (Kung) mayroon kang makita, i-report mo,” he said.

(Government can't handle this on its own. Everyone should coordinate. If you see something, report it.)

Ortha added that financial institutions may also be of help in tracking down OSEC perpetrators by providing information on suspicious money transfers.

The group recommended the conduct of a national assessment of OSEC according to context, prevalence, and children’s perspectives, in order to serve as baseline information for a campaign against online exploitation. 

It also urged the Department of Information and Communications Technology to build its capacity in policing the internet. According to the report, a “child helpline”, which is a dedicated desk in key cities and municipalities, will enable victims and their kin to easily report cases and follow up on investigations.

CHILDREN AS COLLATERAL DAMAGE IN THE DRUG WAR

The coalition underscored the need for the DOJ to set up child-friendly services, as it noted that “children have not been safe” from the government’s war on drugs. 

At least 74 children died in the anti-illegal drugs campaign as of December 2017, according to the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center.

Joining Forces Philippines, meanwhile, puts the estimated number of children orphaned by the drug war at more than 32,000.

The coalition said child victims of the anti-illegal drugs campaign have been called “collateral damage”.

“Ang gobyerno naman natin, basta mayroong ebidensya laban doon sa mga pulis, hindi naman natin tino-tolerate,” Ortha assured.

(Our government doesn't tolerate police abuses, especially when there's evidence.)

GAPS IN DELIVERING QUALITY EDUCATION

Ensuring quality basic education continues to be a challenge under the new K-to-12 curriculum, according to Joining Forces Philippines. 

It cited the average scores on National Achievement Test for Grade 6 and Grade 10 students, which are at less than 50 percent. These are below the Department of Education’s target of 75 percent. Observations from various groups also noted that “there seems to be a significant number of struggling readers even at Grade 6 levels”.

Among the factors seen to “erode quality teaching” is the magnitude of administrative and student support roles assigned to teachers. The report also considers “problematic” the metrics for measuring teachers’ performance.

“They are evaluated based on zero dropout rates and not on the actual quality of learning of students. Incentives provided to teachers without drop-out students create temptations for teachers to adjust standards on student promotion,” it said. The alleged underutilization of the education budget and the failure to pass the positive discipline bill were also seen as challenges.

The report recommended “proper funding” for the development of training manuals and educational materials. It said that the DepEd must put a premium on implementing best practices and time-tested programs, as it echoed calls for a comprehensive review of the K-12 curriculum.

“DepEd needs to further look into the “struggling readers” problem and implement a multi-pronged approach to solve it, including peer-to-peer tutoring, mobilizing partners and other development actors, and institutionalizing localized after-school reading programs,” the report added. 

It also urged the DepEd to build more schools, noting that congestion affects the quality of education. The report further recommended schools to consider easing the administrative burden on teachers.

IMMUNIZATION AND TEENAGE PREGNANCY

Fully immunizing children in the Philippines has become a health challenge, following the Dengvaxia controversy. The report cited data from the Department of Health, which said the rate of immunized children declined to 66.1 percent in 2018 from 69.84 percent in 2016. The figure is below the national target of 95 percent.

“The DOH has pointed to this trend as one of the major causes of the prevalence of communicable diseases and rapid changes in trends on epidemics including polio and dengue,” the report said.

“The DOH has pointed to “vaccine hesitance” or the “delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability of vaccination services” as being one of the primary causes of this national setback,” it added.

Another challenge identified in the report is the “alarming prevalence” of teenage pregnancy in the country. The 2017 National Demographic and Health Survey revealed that 1 in 10 women age 15 to 19 years have begun childbearing.

The report recommended a clear program that will address teenage pregnancy, which includes the provision for child and adolescent-friendly reproductive services. “A more coordinated effort with the Department of Education to address teenage pregnancy for in-school and out-of-school adolescents is also valuable,” it added.

Meanwhile, the report recommended more aggressive, time-tested, and proven effective programs and projects to promote vaccination. It also stressed the need for sufficient funding for health programs.