By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
As the country reels over the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines is calling for further protection of children against online sexual abuse and exploitation (OSEC).
Child Rights Network (CRN) reiterated its call to the public to be “on guard” against the OSEC in light of the spike in OSEC reports and cases in the country. “We have to declare an all-out war against OSEC in order to resolutely shut down these hideous acts committed against children,” said Child Rights Network Convener Romeo Dongeto.
CRN cited an incident involving a 28-year-old suspect of online sex trafficking who was apprehended in Butuan City last May 21. The suspect, CRN said, was a “close relative and a neighbor of the seven victims and six other children suspected to have also been abused.” The said suspect was arrested after she was found to be offering a paying foreign sexual predator a livestream of the sexual abuse and exploitation of the minors together with an adult.
“The sad reality that the suspect is a close relative and acquaintance of the victims highlights the fact that at least 25 percent of OSEC cases in the country are perpetrated by family members and close contacts of victims,” Dongeto explained.
CRN noted that this data was confirmed by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) webinar on OSEC, which is headed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), held recently organized by the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population Development and Child Rights Network. The DOJ recently reported that OSEC reports nearly tripled during the months of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Dongeto emphasized the need to strengthen the country’s reporting and surveillance mechanisms of OSEC in the time of COVID-19 as he called on internet service providers and money transfer facilities to “develop the necessary technology and mechanisms to shut down OSEC” and to start aggressively reporting cases.
“We have to maximize the internet to intensify our campaign against OSEC, and be cognizant of the implications of the pandemic and the ‘new normal’ in the review of laws related to OSEC,” Dongeto explained.
CRN noted that the International Justice Mission recently released a groundbreaking study confirming that Philippines has indeed become the “global hotspot” of online sexual abuse. The study highlights the fact that “OSEC victims are very young and are often groomed and abused for years.”
Given this, CRN once again enjoined the public to “immediately report suspected cases” of OSEC.