Remember Sweetie, the virtual 10-year-old Filipina girl created to catch online sex abusers? Her creator, Dutch children?s rights organization Terre des Hommes, has just launched Sweetie 2.0, which is basically chat robots designed to nab Web predators.
In a briefing held at the Luxent Hotel in Quezon City on Tuesday, April 14, local and international officials of Terre des Hommes announced that it is now working with foreign specialists to develop advanced software to tackle online sexual abuse of children worldwide.
At the same time, the organization called upon the Philippine government to urge the international community to act against the emerging online menace.
Thousands of children are victims of online sexual abuse, the group said. According to official estimates, at any given moment, there are more than 750,000 predators on the Internet looking to engage children in sexual activities in over 40,000 public chatrooms.
In 2013, using the virtual character ?Sweetie?, Terre des Hommes unmasked more than 1,000 individuals who were looking for webcam sex with children. Their details were handed over to the police authorities.
The project received worldwide attention, firmly putting the subject of online sexual exploitation of children on national and international political agenda. Several arrests have taken place and thus far individual predators have been convicted in Australia and more recently in Belgium.
With the Sweetie project, Terre des Hommes said it aims to highlight the scale and nature of this relatively new phenomenon and demonstrate that a pro-active approach is most effective in preventing these crimes.
The Dutch group said millions of potential offenders still consider themselves unobserved, anonymous, and immune for prosecution. It is still too easy to engage children in sexual activities on the Internet, it said.
With the ?Sweetie 2.0 Stop Webcam Sex with Children? project, the group said it aims to take on this crime. With the assistance of national and international experts, the organization is developing new, globally applicable software to combat webcam sex with children.
The program is expected to recognize and deter millions of perpetrators looking for online sex with minors. The system will be tuned to national and international legal frameworks for investigation and prosecution, the organization said.
An extensive academic research program into the impact of this approach is also being conducted as integral part of the project.
?Recognizing and warning potential predators is technically feasible, practically achievable and urgently required to deal with this rapidly growing phenomenon in an effective and efficient manner,? said project manager Hans Guyt of Terre des Hommes the Netherlands.
?The Philippine authorities should be applauded for their efforts to tackle cybersex with children. Numerous raids have taken place, criminals arrested and children set free. However, if nothing is being done by the international community to deal with the enormous and ever growing demand side, this phenomenon will only get worse and the Philippine police will unfortunately be fighting an uphill battle,? added Terre des Hommes country director Alwin de Leon.
The organization has urged the Philippine government to actively seek support from the international community in forums such as the UN. The forthcoming Global Conference on Cyber Space, which will be held in The Hague on April 16 to 17, provides such an opportunity, it said.