MANILA -- Reports of online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines spiked by over 260 percent during the coronavirus lockdown of its most populous island, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Monday, citing data from an international non-profit corporation.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which operates the CyberTipline Report (CTR), a hotline for cases of online exploitation of children, recorded 279,166 reports from March 1 to May 24, 2020, the DOJ said.
The tally is higher by 264.63 percent or 202,605 incidents compared to the same period last year, which only saw 76,561 reports, it said.
The DOJ attributed the increase to the surge in internet use after about half of the Philippines' 100 million people were locked down to contain the pandemic beginning March 17.
These reports include cases where either the offender or offended party is in the Philippines, and could cover the following:
- possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography;
- online enticement of children for sexual acts;
- child sex trafficking;
- sex tourism involving children;
- extra-familial child sexual molestation;
- unsolicited obscene material sent to a child; and
- misleading words or digital images on the internet.
But the DOJ clarified that not all of these reports are "actual cases" of online sexual exploitation of children as they may include identical materials that went viral, misleading digital images not involving any sexual activity, or inaccurate reports.
The reports will have to be assessed by the DOJ's Office of Cybercrime before they are endorsed to the National Bureau of Investigation–Anti-Human Trafficking Division and the Philippine National Police–Women and Children Protection Center for further investigation and action.
The justice department also said that from March 15 to May 21, it received 4 complaints in Caloocan City, Taguig City, Angeles City in Pampanga, and Butuan City. Two other cases in Lapu-Lapu City are on trial.
During the same period, the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC), a collaboration between local and international law agencies, arrested 7 suspects and rescued 34 children. It received 22 referrals.
The Philippines relaxed its lockdown of Metro Manila and majority of the country last May 16 to restart the shrinking economy.
The DOJ and police said Saturday that administrators of Facebook pages that promote sexual exploitation of children face up to 17 years and 4 months in jail, and may be fined with up to P1 million.
Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, who is in charge of the DOJ Cybercrime office, said internet service providers should install technology that will block or filter out materials that exploit children, as mandated by the Anti-Child Pornography law, enacted in 2009.
"They know that such a legal obligation is automatically read into their franchises and permits to operate. And they realize, more than anyone, that without such technology, this trend of victimization of children who are the most vulnerable among us will remain unabated," he said in a statement.
At present, no law specifically punishes online sexual exploitation of children. But authorities use the following measures to go after offenders:
-RA 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009
-RA 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act
-RA 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as amended by RA 10364; and
-RA 11075 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.