MANILA — The number of recorded online sexual exploitation cases among children in the Philippines continues to rise despite the pandemic, and one of its youngest victims was a barely-month-old baby, the country’s inter-agency council against trafficking revealed on Wednesday.
During the House Committee on Welfare of Children hearing, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) said the baby was rescued in February last year.
“We identified the youngest victim that was rescued which is 25 days old, less than 1 month,” IACAT’s Executive Director Yvette Coronel said.
Some 9 percent of all the rescued victims from sexual exploitation in the country were children aged 0 to 3, according to Coronel, citing the International Justice Mission’s study in 2020.
Twenty-one percent of the rescued victims, meanwhile, were aged between 13 and 15; 16 percent were aged between 10 to 12. A total of 14 percent of the victims were aged 7 to 9, the study showed.
And the number of children victimized continue to grow through the years.
In 2019, the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center recorded 120 rescued victims. This figure rose to 172 in 2020.
Another data from NBI Anti-Human Trafficking Division showed that only 4 victims were rescued in 2019, but it grew to 19 in 2020.
The Philippines also received more than 8 times as many referrals as any other country identified by the global law enforcement data.
"Compared to other countries such as Mexico, Brazil and India, [the] Philippines received more referrals for [online sexual exploitation of children] cases from global law enforcement partners,” she said.
Committee Chairperson Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez, during her opening statement, blamed the internet and parents for the online sexual exploitation among children.
“In 2018 alone, the DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime (DOJ-OCC) reported at least 600,000 child sexual abuse materials from the Philippines, marking a 1,300 percent increase from the previous year,” Romualdez pointed out.
She added that the lack of parental or guardian supervision and unemployment, among others, has contributed to the soaring cases.
“The situation is made worse with… the dearth of resources to investigate and prosecute perpetrators, or rescue and rehabilitate victims, the long periods of home confinement due to community quarantine restrictions, as well as the pandemic-induced large scale loss of jobs,” she said.
Coronel emphasized that most cases of online sexual exploitation among children were “usually a family-based crime”.
A total of 41 percent of the arrested perpetrators, she said, were the victims’ biological parents, while 42 percent involved relatives.
Some 56 percent of the rescued victims were found to be related with each other, either siblings, cousins, or other relatives.
The victims were also subjected to online exploitation for an average of 1 to 2 years before they were rescued, some even ranging for 3 to 4 years, she said.
“What is alarming before these victims [were] identified [is] they… have been abused already for about years”, she explained.
The usual customers were all males ranging from 40 to 70 years old, of which 34 percent were from the United States, 25 percent were based in Sweden, while 18 percent came from Australia.
“Usually they connect through an online platform, there are certain pedophile groups and adult websites identified, these usually Facebook groups which are now taken down by the platform,” the executive director said.
She also emphasized the perpetrators’ ability to communicate in English and the proliferation of money services businesses in the country, enabling the crime.
“A significant number of cases are also coming from money services businesses because there is also increased knowledge in that sector largely from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC),” she said.
“They’ve been working with these money services platforms sharing information about their study so they can in turn actively report their suspicious transactions,” she added.
These money services are now even more accessible, now that such services are available even in their barangays.
The AMLC has been receiving a spike of suspicious transaction reports that are related to online sexual exploitation activities among children, paving the way for the arrest of several individuals.
[BOLD] SANCTIONS VS ISPs OVER CHILD PORN
Because of these findings, IACAT recommended to the committee to direct National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) to impose sanctions and institute criminal actions against internet service providers (ISPs) for their supposed violations on the Anti-Child Pornography Act or Republic Act No. 9775.
Coronel said that ISPs are bound by the law to notify the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation within a week upon knowledge that their servers or facilities were used for child porn.
Internet service providers are also urged to preserve evidence for the purpose of investigation and prosecution and to provide particulars of users involved in child porn and install available technology to intercept or block access to child porn.
The House committee is set to continue their discussion on the issue before coming up with a bill against online exploitation of children.
The NTC has earlier issued show cause orders against ISPs in the country over their supposed failure to stop the spread of online child pornography, following President Rodrigo Duterte’s outrage on the circumstance.