The government will go all out to address the growing cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) following two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with expanding internet connectivity even in the low-income bracket of society.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) said on Tuesday several agencies will go after those who cooperate directly or indirectly in OSEC acts.
“We are declaring a war on this…The only sure deterrent would be certainty of punishment for those who will insist on exploiting children,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said during an inter-agency press conference against OSEC at Malacañang.
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Erwin Tulfo said that in some cases, parents are also involved in the commission of abuses.
“For everyone’s information, there is an online site which features photos of naked children. Pedophiles overseas make them dance naked. Unfortunately, parents are the ones who take the videos and sell them,” Tulfo said.
The United States is fully behind the Philippine government in combatting the rampant sexual exploitation of children in the country, the US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said Tuesday.
In the press briefing in Malacañang, HSI Attaché Ricardo Navalta said the US will continue to help the Philippines develop best practices and programs to stop predators from having access to Filipino children as well as to educate the population against the act.
“There are a lot of programs that the United States has that we will provide information on and hopefully be able to educate the community, teachers, parents, everyone that we can,” he said.
Data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, maintained by the United States, identified the Philippines as the top producer of child sexual abuse materials, which grew from 1.3 million in 2020 to 3.1 million in 2021.
Tulfo said poverty and all the issues arising from it is one of the causes of such abuses.
Since 2018, the US has been in close coordination with the Philippine National Police in combatting transnational crime, trends, sexual misconduct, and child exploitation, among others.
The US is also working with counterparts from the United Kingdom and Australia to conduct training and help the country prosecute offenders.
Navalta said concerned agencies are now in the process of including the National Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Immigration, the DSWD, and other Philippine government offices in the collaboration.
“This is a global problem and I think that all countries that can come in and participate in this (serve as) a very big opportunity for us to really make an impact,” he said.
Philippine Special Envoy to the United Nations Children’s Fund Nikki Prieto-Teodoro said OSEC cases almost tripled since most children were locked at home during the pandemic.
“The (COVID) lockdown played a big part, of parents, actually marketing their children online for profit. The fact that it’s easy to put up a site, you put one, you can have ten at the same time. So, it’s the technology that made it easier for these perpetrators to market their children,” she said in the same presser.
“Now, we have to play a bigger part in protecting our children by reporting it immediately,” Prieto-Teodoro said.
Medardo De Lemos, NBI Director, said that since 2019, the agency has secured 29 convictions in OSEC cases and has 46 ongoing investigations on child pornography.
He said the NBI has established tracking and anti-human trafficking groups and designated contact persons throughout the country for the online monitoring of OSEC cases.
“We are cooperating with our counterparts outside the country and payment centers where the money is coursed through because the victims are here and the predators outside the country,” De Lemos said.
Remulla said the Anti-Money Laundering Council is going after the money trail of payments for video streaming of child abuse and pornography.
Talks are also underway for internet providers and telecommunications companies to put up safety precautions.
On DSWD’s part, Tulfo said once the victims are rescued from their abusers, they will be placed under the custody of the Council for the Welfare of Children.
“We will be the ones to take care of them and you (abusers) will never see them again,” he said.
Remulla said rising OSEC cases in the country are “a source of shame” and the government is committed to stopping them.
“We will do everything that can be done and we’re not leaving any stone unturned,” he said.