Friday, March 1, 2024

Senate passes bill expanding protections for kids against online sexual abuse

The Senate approved on third and final reading on Thursday, May 27, a bill that aims to expand and improve government protections for children against online sexual abuse and exploitation.

Photo from Senate

Voting 23-0, the senators passed Senate Bill No. (SBN) 2209, also known as the proposed Special Protections Against Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) Law, or the Anti-OSAEC Law.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, and sponsor of SBN 2209, said that the measure is a much-needed update of existing laws to better protect children against acts of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation in the online sphere.

“It is time that we put an end to the rampant online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the country. Let’s make sure that there will be no more predators and abusers who will be able to avoid our laws, and that there will be no more child victims subjected to such horrible acts,” Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros explained that the bill expands upon laws like the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 (RA 9775) and plugs gaps in the law by defining and penalizing online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) as a separate crime from those punished under current laws like the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discriminaton Law (RA 7610) and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208.)

The bill, Hontiveros said, also empowers law enforcers with additional tools to investigate and prosecute Filipino and foreign perpetrators of OSAEC, particularly those hiding behind the veil of anonymity provided by online platforms and applications.

Another key feature of the bill, she said, is that it imposes additional legal duties on Internet intermediaries — such as Internet service providers, Web hosting providers, online payment system providers, social media networks and others — to adopt systems of preventing, detecting, blocking and reporting acts of OSAEC.

“This means that social media companies like Facebook may be duty-bound under law to block and remove material involving child sexual abuse and exploitation within 24 hours from receipt of notice, preserve such evidence in their possession, and devise procedures of preventing, detecting, blocking and reporting any similar material,” Hontiveros said.

To help prevent the entry of predators like Peter Scully — the Australian national dubbed the “World’s Worst Pedophile” who was arrested in the country in 2015 — into the Philippines, the bill will also bar entry into the country of all convicted perpetrators of OSAEC in other jurisdictions, as well as aliens being investigated upon by Philippine authorities for involvement in OSAEC activities.

Likewise, Hontiveros said that a registry of foreign and local OSAEC offenders will be maintained and regularly updated by government under the bill. A new government body — the National Coordination Center against OSAEC (NCC-OSAEC) — will be also created to coordinate government efforts against OSAEC and to receive tips and reports of such activities.

“Sadly, the Philippine has become one of the global hotspots of child sexual abuse and exploitation. According to the Unicef back in 2016, we were one of the top ten countries producing child sexual abuse and exploitation materials. This problem has only gotten worse with the Covid-19 pandemic, since OSAEC cases reportedly increased by 264.6 percent,” Hontiveros said.

“We have a shared responsibility to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Armed with effective legislation, we should work as one community towards stopping these horrible acts against young Filipinos everywhere,” Hontiveros said.

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