The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which operates the CyberTipline Report, a hotline for cases of online exploitation of children, reported that online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines increased by over 260 percent during the coronavirus lockdown, which shut down Luzon, the country’s most populated island.
Citing reports from the Department of Justice report, the NCMEC said there were reported 279,166 cases from March 1 to May 24, 2020.
This is higher by 264.63 percent or 202,605 incidents compared to the same period last year, which had 76,561.
The DOJ said the rise in the number case maybe trade to the increase on the use of the internet As about half of the country’s 100 million people were locked down to contain the pandemic beginning March 17.
The 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.
The DOJ, however, explained 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, the DOJ said, will still have to be assessed by the 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 DOJ added 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 also received 22 referrals.
Last May 16, the government relaxed its lockdown in Metro Manila and majority of the country to restart the shrinking economy.
The DOJ and police have said that administrators of Facebook pages that promote sexual exploitation of children stand to face up to 17 years and 4 months in prison, and may be fined of up to P1 million.
Justice Undersecretary and DOJ Cybercrime office chief Markk Perete said that 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 ofchildren who are the most vulnerable among us will remain unabated," he said in a statement.
There is no specific law that punishes online sexual exploitation of children, but authorities use the following measures to go after
Offenders. They are: 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.
Meanwhile, according to study by the International Justice Mission, the Philippines has become the world's largest known source of online child sexual exploitation, with endemic poverty helping drive a surge in abuse.
The report added that parents and relatives were responsible for facilitating the abuse in nearly all cases.
The combination of English fluency and high internet connectivity in the former US colony had helped make the country a "global hotspot" for child pornography, the report said.
The proportion of Philippine internet addresses used to host child pornography had tripled in the three years to 2017, said the study, which based its findings on data collected by law enforcement data.
"There are children who need rescue now, but rescue starts with timely detection and robust reporting," said IJM's Philippine director Samson Inocencio.
The report said of the victims it identified had been preyed upon for years and the youngest was less than a year old.
"We need to act as a global community -- ending impunity in both source countries like the Philippines and demand countries,"
Philippine Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Villar said in a statement in response to the findings.
The United Nations Children's Fund said in February that the Philippines is one of the top global sources of child sex abuse materials, with 600,000 "sexualised" photos of Filipino children bartered and traded in 2018 alone. With AFP