As the Covid-19 pandemic fuels fears of a cybersex trafficking surge among children in Southeast Asia, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has called on the Department of Education (DepEd), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) for increased vigilance and protective measures.
Gatchalian warned that since the community quarantine in the country gave children more time to spend online, traffickers would take advantage to target more victims. He emphasized that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) already identified the Philippines as the global epicenter of the livestream sexual abuse trade, with eight out of ten children and youth at risk of online sexual abuse.
The DOJ Cybercrime Office reported that in 2018, it received 600,000 tips of images and videos of naked, sexualized, and abused Filipino children, an increase of more than 1,000 percent from 45,645 cases in 2017.
The United States (US) Department of Labor’s “2018 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor” also reported that at the direction of paying customers, victims in the Philippines were induced to perform sex acts for live Internet broadcasts in small Internet cafes, private homes, and “cybersex dens.”
“Bago pa dumating ang banta ng Covid-19, isang hamon na sa atin kung paano natin lalabanan ang online sexual abuse sa mga kabataan. Ngayong mas nakatutok sa Internet ang mga bata, kailangan nating palakasin ang mga hakbang upang mabigyan sila ng proteksyon at mapanagot ang gumagawa ng krimeng ito,” said Gatchalian.
Gatchalian urged DepEd to leverage its online learning platform ‘DepEd Commons’ to increase awareness on the dangers, prevention, and reporting of Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC). Aside from teaching children about these, the lawmaker also said parents should monitor their children’s online activities and ensure the strictest possible level of their privacy settings.
He also urged the DOJ and the PNP to use their communication platforms to likewise raise awareness while mobilizing their cybercrime units to track down predators. These efforts should also involve women and children protection units such as the PNP-Women and Children Protection Center and the NBI-Violence Against Women and Children Desk, the lawmaker said.
Gatchalian last year filed Senate Bill 735 or the Human Trafficking Preventive Education Program Act to orient Filipino children and youth about their rights, government protection measures, and the dangers posed by different forms of trafficking, including online sexual exploitation.
Meanwhile, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have joined hands with telecommunications firms to send out text blasts encouraging subscribers to visit unicef.ph and saferkidsph.org for information and tips on how to support parents and children in managing the impact of Covid-19.
Unicef.ph is UNICEF Philippines official website. It contains UNICEF’s various programs, research and reports on issues affecting Filipino children, stories of beneficiaries, as well as volunteer opportunities. At present, the website also include latest updates and news on Covid-19, UNICEF’s initiatives on helping children affected by the Covid-19 crisis, as well as advice for parents and families on coping with the current situation.
SaferkidsPH, on the other hand, is an initiative of UNICEF, the Australian Embassy, Save the Children, and The Asia Foundation. The website includes information on how to reduce and prevent online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines.