World Vision continues advocacy against online sexual exploitation and abuse of Filipino children

Annie, a mother, was recently convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison. She would also need to pay Php500,000 for moral damages and Php100,000 for exemplary damages.

Her crime?

Exploiting her son, 3, and daughter, 5, online for sexual gratification of a foreigner.

Annie’s story is a not a unique case. The Philippines is the largest known source of sexually exploited children online. A 2020 report of the International Justice Mission (IJM), an international organization that protects people in poverty from violence, showed the Philippines with 237 referred cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) between 2010-2017 compared with three other leading countries: Mexico with 27 referred cases, Brazil with 19, and India with 18.

Making this worse is that offenders are oftentimes the child’s mother or female relatives who sell materials and indecently livestream their child’s body to a 40- to 70-year-old male foreigner to be paid between Php500 ($10) to Php25,000 ($500). Child survivors of online sexual exploitation could be as young as less than 1 year old to 31 years old.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem. The Philippine’s Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) reported that online tips of possible online sexual exploitation of children rose to 1.2 million in 2020 compared from 400,000 in 2019.

“The Philippines has one of the longest lockdown and restrictions in the world at the height of the pandemic. Many families were affected economically that compelled them to turn to cyberspace to sell their children to survive. The situation offers a perfect opportunity for sexual predators to victimize children,” Jezreel Domingo, World Vision’s Child Protection Manager, says.

CHILD ABUSE: Refers to the maltreatment, whether habitual or not, of a child. Abuse may be in a form of physical, psychological and emotional. Child sexual abuse is another type of child abuse.

CHILD EXPLOITATION: Child exploitation refers to children, male or female, who for money, profit or any other consideration or due to the coercion or influence of any adult, syndicate or group, indulge in sexual intercourse or lascivious conduct.

ONLINE CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION: Refers to the use of a child to make sexual photos, videos, or live shows on the Internet in exchange for payment.

Teaming up to protect the children

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, online sexual abuse and exploitation is one of the most notorious crimes that targets the vulnerability and innocence of both girls and boys. A UNICEF study in 2016 showed that 80% (8 out of 10) of the Filipino children are vulnerable to online sexual abuse.

Concerned at the increasing number of violence involving children, World Vision offices across the world compelled to take action by launching its advocacy campaign in 2017 called It Takes a World (ITAW) that aims to strengthen local, national, and global accountability to end violence against children. ITAW aligns with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets that speak to the issues of child protection.

ITAW campaign served as an impetus for the implementation of plans across World Vision offices to address issues on violence against children. “In the Philippines, World Vision chose to focus on the issue of OSEC. Our campaign is called It Takes a World to End Sexual Exploitation of Children. We decided to focus on OSEC because we saw the alarming trend already even before the pandemic,” Domingo affirms.

World Vision Philippines’ It Takes a World to End Sexual Exploitation of Children campaign was launched in 2017 in Quezon City. A year after, in 2018, World Vision signed a Memorandum of Agreement with two other organizations: IJM and Compassion International, a Christ-centered, church-driven, and child-focused organization.

“The partnership deepens the commitment of each organization to end violence against children through various intervention such as raising awareness on OSEC in communities where we work, providing support to OSEC survivors, enabling churches to care for children at risk and survivors of OSEC, and influencing policy at the national and local levels,” Domingo explains.

For nearly three years, World Vision in the Philippines has vigorously raised awareness on OSEC to its more than 20 communities across the country. The child-focused organization reached more than 79,000 children and adolescents to know more about OSEC-related prevention, trained 8,600 stakeholders about child protection such as anti-trafficking, and mobilized more than 25,000 community members to campaign against OSEC.

Reading materials that contain information about It Takes a World to End OSEC were distributed. A manual on ITAW was also created to serve as guide for World Vision staff working in communities. In partnership with Compassion and College of St Benilde students, World Vision also distributed an e-comics on OSEC titled “Through My Screen” that tells a story of Daniella, an OSEC child survivor.

Having more than 50,000 sponsored children spread across its communities, World Vision staff in the field have been on the lookout for possible OSEC cases. The organization had referred 5 cases of OSEC and child pornography to IJM. Currently, World Vision is monitoring and assisting 10 child-related violence in its communities.

Through its social media platforms, World Vision has been an active participant during World Day Against Trafficking and World Day Against Child Labor. In 2020, the organization released the research “Community Perspectives on Online Sexual Exploitation of Children” funded by the United States government.

“In our area programs, we work closely with local councils for the protection of children in strengthening their reporting and referral mechanisms,” Caroline Veronilla, World Vision’s Advocacy Specialist, adds.

World Vision, along with other child-focused organizations, is also advocating for the passage of bills that will further protect children from all forms of violence including Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (OSAEC).

Campaigning against and reporting OSEC violators

The African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is true but for World Vision, it takes a world to protect a girl and boy child from online abuses and exploitation. “A child survivor may be in the Philippines but the perpetrator could be in another country. OSEC knows no boundaries especially in this digital age,” Veronilla says.

To remind global leaders on this, the Global Collaborative, a survivor-led network of NGOs, faith-based institutions, survivor networks and governments, is calling for the United Nations to make November 18 an International Day for Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Prevention and Healing.

Organizations in 55 countries are already committed to taking part in this event, which offers the chance to stand with survivors of child sexual abuse, highlight the tragedy and its resonating impacts, as well as demand better and stronger laws and increased funding for prevention, healing, and justice.

Likewise, as the Philippines celebrate the National Children’s Month this November, World Vision is calling everyone to end OSEC. “We encourage everyone to be vigilant against OSEC, be the voice of the children and report suspicions in their communities,” Domingo says.

Below are hotlines that one may report suspected OSEC activities in the community:

  • Bantay Bata 163 (toll-free call) – Dial 163 (Smart) or #163 (Globe)
  • Trafficking Actiononline – Dial 1343 (Metro Manila) and 02-1343 (outside Metro Manila). Online report may also be sent thru www.1343actiononline.ph
  • Philippine National Police – Dial 117
  • Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Division (Aleng Pulis Hotline) – Dial 0919 777 7377 (Smart) and 0966 725 5961 (Globe) or call 8-532-6690

Sources

  1. “Exploitation and Abuse” by the UNHCR : https://www.unhcr.org/3bb81aea4.pdf
  2. “National Study on Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children in the Philippines” (2020) by UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/philippines/media/2711/file/UNIPH-2021-NationalStudyOSAEC-FullReport.pdf
  3. “Online Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Philippines: Analysis and Recommendations for Governments, Industry and Civil Society” (2020) by International Justice Mission: https://ijmstoragelive.blob.core.windows.net/ijmna/documents/studies/Final_OSEC-Public-Summary_05_20_2020_2021-02-05-055202.pdf?mtime=20210204215202&focal=none
  4. “OSEC: A Modern Face of Human Trafficking” (October 15, 2020) by World Hope: https://reliefweb.int/report/philippines/osec-modern-face-human-trafficking
  5. “Online Sexual Exploitation of Children” (September 4, 2020) by Flor Tarriela, Businessworld Online: https://www.bworldonline.com/online-sexual-exploitation-of-children/
  6. “4 Convicted Online for Online Sexual Exploitation of 11 kids in Cebu” (March 2, 2022) by Marita Moaje, Philippine News Agency: https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1132331

“Community Perspectives on Online Sexual Exploitation of Children” (2020) by World Vision’s Child Protection Compact project: https://www.worldvision.org.ph/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/OSEC_25May2021-compressed.pdf