CHILD RIGHTS NETWORK ASKS CONGRESS: Stronger laws needed now to protect children online

    113
    Children can be unnecessarily exposed to online exploitation (Photo from the UNCHR)
    Children can be unnecessarily exposed to online exploitation (Photo from the UNCHR)

    STRONGER laws are needed to totally eliminate online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC).

    In the launch of the #ShutdownOSEC campaign last week, the Child Rights Network (CRN) called on Congress to strengthen current laws designed to stop OSEC by reviewing and updating these to include appropriate definitions of terms, accountability of the private sector to children, child rescue and rehabilitation, and punishment of perpetrators.

    OSEC is a terrible stigma on technology and social media. The Internet has in the recent past become the primary purveyor of child pornography and sexual exploitation.

    “With the current trend, it cannot be business as usual. Technology is very dynamic, enabling the issue’s prevalence. Hence, we should also be dynamic and agile in our response; we need to start working on stopping OSEC now,” Romeo Dongeto, CRN Convenor said.

    There are two definitions that need to be clarified in the case of the exploitation of children.
    On one hand, there is the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) which occurs when people under the age of 18 engage in, or are forced into prostitution and pornography in exchange for money or material payment. The most common way transactions under these CSEC happen are through parents or guardians, especially for younger children, and via personal contact or through a pimp.

    OSEC, on the other hand refers to child sexual exploitation which is facilitated or takes place through the Internet and other related media. This includes prostituting children or the simple livestreaming of children doing sexual acts like touching themselves.

    During the launch, child rights organizations, legislators, private sector, and youth representatives discussed OSEC cases in the Philippines, laws invoked against it, and how various sectors in the country can contribute to shutting it down.

    Online sexual exploitation seriously damages children. It leads to depression, social isolation, and even suicide attempts. In many places in the Philippines it has become a family business for some, diminishing its menace as an actual form of sexual abuse of children because parents are involved.

    #ShutdownOSEC is a follow on activity to ChildFund Philippines and CRN’s workshop with the media last December 2019, where they proposed guidelines for reporting OSEC cases in the news.

    Laws and allies needed. The campaign website is www.childrightsnetwork.ph/ShutDownOSEC.

    CRN noted OSEC cases here are mostly because our systems have less than completely detected and prosecuted them. Despite our laws being designed to be comprehensive to punish all possible cases of child abuse, their “all-encompassing nature” do not capture the commensurate punishment for OSEC.

    Currently, the most referenced laws for OSEC are Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, followed by the Cybercrime Prevention Act, Anti-Child Pornography Act, and the Anti-Child Abuse Act.

    These laws however, do not clearly define OSEC; punish the livestreaming of child sexual abuse; and impose obligations on private sector to prevent and stop OSEC. Consequently, latest data revealed that in 2018 alone, at least 600,000 naked and sexualized photos and videos of Filipino children were shared and sold online. Out of these thousands of cases, only 27 perpetrators were convicted in 2018.

    Senator Risa Hontiveros, and Tingog Sinirangan Partylist Representative and House Committee on the Welfare of Children Chair Yedda Romualdez were among those who participated in the launch. The group wants more allies in the both Houses of Congress to make sure that appropriate actions are taken on both and that legal reforms will be signed into law.

    “We call on our leaders in government to help us shut down OSEC. We need to make sure our laws are updated to penalize violators and protect more children from the harms of OSEC. Civil society cannot do it alone. We need a whole of nation approach if we are to stop this terrible crime that robs children of their future,” Dongeto added.