Sexual exploitation now done online

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    IT is a pity that because of poverty, gutter morals, and the general social climate where everything material is supreme, even parents and elder relatives of young children have been involved in making money out of sexual exploitation, using their very own children and misusing the Internet for purposes it was never intended to be used.

    Last week, police arrested two mothers and rescued eight children who have been victims of online sexual abuse, with their very own parents as perpetrators. The first criminal activity and the resulting arrest occurred in Pampanga last February 20, with a 10-year-old boy and two girls aged 13 and 16 as victims. Recovered from the scene were two smartphones, money transfer receipts, and lingerie. A 40-year-old mother was arrested for violating the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and the Anti-Child Pornography Law.

    Evidence that this practice is rampant is another police operation — this time in Laguna — in which four girls, a boy, and a 25-day old baby were rescued from a woman by the Philippine National Police, in coordination with the International Justice Mission. The woman was charged with violations of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, Anti-Child Abuse Act, and Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.

    The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has tagged the Philippines as the “global epicenter of the live-stream sexual abuse trade” and that one in five Filipino children are vulnerable to online sexual exploitation. According to the Child Rights Network and concurred in by the Unicef, among the factors that make the country vulnerable to online sexual exploitation are widespread poverty, cheap internet and smartphones, ability to speak English, access to money remittance centers in many areas, prevailing norms of secrecy, lack of parental supervision, often caused by parents needing to work abroad for better pay. On top of these, there is also the government’s lack of resources to investigate and prosecute offenders and rescue and rehabilitate victims, and of course, the concomitant graft and corruption among the authorities.

    What is sad is the fact that Unicef has pointed out that in many cases, there is the involvement of the children’s own family members in this widespread crime that up to now has dodged the crime-fighting radars of the government.

    We have the full resources and agencies of government to stem the tide of cybercrimes such as the Department of Justice-National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Social Welfare and

    Development, and the Philippine National Police but we have barely scratched the surface in fighting child pornography in the internet.

    We note, however, that one in a while, there is a representative or a senator who takes up this issue, but often it is just for show or for public and media consumption. Such as when Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez flagged the problem anew and called for the prosecution of online sexual exploitation, saying the predators of children up to the highest levels should be identified and prosecuted. Her weighing in on the issue is understandable because Romualdez is chair of the House Committee on the Welfare of Children.

    Romualdez said she hopes our law enforcers will continue with their work until all operators of this crime and their adult patrons are jailed. She also urged the NBI and the police to coordinate with their counterparts abroad and international organizations so that the financiers of these online sexual exploitation rackets are identified, arrested and prosecuted.

    She believes that only through international cooperation can we successfully combat transnational child sexual exploitation, but we say this legitimate fight should start here and now, in the Philippines, and we should rely on local capability and ability of our law enforcers and judiciary.