MANILA - Over 600,000 images and videos of naked, sexualized and abused Filipino children were uploaded, shared and sold online in 2018, a child advocacy group said Tuesday.
This is a dramatic increase of 1,300 percent compared to 45,645 cases in 2017 and 37,715 cases in 2016, data from Child Rights Network showed.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children and Family Relations, said child abuse had become rampant online.
"Kailangan talaga maipasa ang mga iba't ibang batas na magpoprotekta sa mga bata, kasama na po 'yong pagtaas ng age of sexual consent, pagpasa ng batas laban sa child trafficking" she said during the launch of the Shut Down Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC) or #ShutDownOnlineOSEC campaign.
[We need to pass different measures that seek to protect children, including raising the age of sexual consent and a bill against child trafficking.]
The Philippines has existing laws against child abuse, such as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Anti-Child Pornography Act and Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act.
However, these laws do not clearly define online sexual exploitation of children and oblige the private sector to prevent and stop this, the CRN said.
Child Fund Philippines country director Federico Diaz-Albertini said OSEC was considered a "worldwide emergency."
“It's really alarming the situation we’re in. We should protect them... When something happens, is there a conviction?” he said.
Though the Philippines has retained the highest status in its compliance with measures against human trafficking, it is still considered to be the global epicenter of OSEC, the CRN said.
The youngest victim of online abuse was a 2-month-old baby, the group added.
The Philippine National Police said online exploitation had become a lucrative business to foreigners.
“Majority sa kanila mga foreigners. Madali 'yong communication, madali mag-connect... Madali access sa money transfer. Price range from P2,000 to P3,000,” said Police Brig. Gen. Alessandro Abella, chief of the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Center.
[Majority of the (clients) are foreigners. It's easy for them to communicate, connect and transfer money. The price ranges from P2,000 to P3,000.]
The Department of Justice, however, said the country had made progress in convicting perpetrators, citing an increase since 2018.
“The last 2 years, we have increasing conviction rate. We got the highest in 2018 -- 188 that's unprecedented. Usually, it is 60 to 80 every year,” said Justice Undersecretary Emeline Aglipay-Villar.
Mariz Peñaredonda, a child representative of the Bahay Tuluyan who helps in the rescue and rehabilitation of OSEC victims, shared how she witnessed the plight of some of her friends who were actual victims.
“Hindi po kami gano'n kalakas para labanan ang OSEC. Kailangan po namin ng tulong. Worst po, nakakarating sa time na gusto na nila magpakamatay,” she said.
[We are not that strong to fight against OSEC. We need your help. The worst thing that happen to them is they want to kill themselves.]
“Madalas po kasi OSEC ginagawang business para pagkakitaan... Mas madali po kasi kumita dahil binili ang videos, photos,” she added.
[OSEC has become a business. It's easy for them to earn money because videos and photos are sold online.]
Bahay Tuluyan advocacy coordinator Louise Suamen said the government should also address livelihood problems, especially in far-flung areas where children are most vulnerable to OSEC.
“Sana may programa in place, kasi mawawalan sila ng livelihood. Kumbaga, hindi one time training. Iyong may skills training sa magulang, prevention sa mga paaralan, para mas alam ng mga bata,” she said.
[I hope there's a program in place because they will also lose their livelihood. I hope it's not a one time training, but skills training for parents, prevention measures in schools, so children will know.]
According to Facebook Philippines Safety Policy Manager Snow White Smelser, millions of abusive content are taken down monthly.
“Some 99.5% of this, before you even report it to us, 99.5% is a good number, but a few thousand pieces which could include Filipino child victims, are slipping past our technology. So we need you to report anything we’re not catching. We can work together to keep each other safe online,” she said.
The Child Rights Network is the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines.