AT SEVEN, Lorna was recruited by her neighbor to perform in a live chat three times a day.
Elsa, 7, was forced by her own mother to strip naked in front of a webcam.
Sally, 8, was sold by her own mother online to be raped.
Omar, 13, was forced by his own father to spread his legs in front of a webcam for foreigners online.
Siblings aged 12 and 14 were forced by their neighbor to have sex with each other in a livestream.
These are real, horrifying stories of children who became victims of different forms of violence, as documented by SaferKidsPH, a pioneering consortium led by the Australian government with Save the Children, The Asia Foundation and United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), created to reduce online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines.
All forms of violence against children such as online sexual abuse and exploitation, are considered silent acts of terror against them.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported to the Office of Cybercrime in the Department of Justice 45, 645 tip-offs on sexual images of Filipino children in 2017. This figure ballooned to 600,000 in 2018, showing that online sexual exploitation and abuse of children has become a modern-day human trafficking and transnational issue that must be stopped.
The alarming increase has been attributed to lingering poverty, accessible internet and smartphones, prevailing social norms, change in parenting dynamics due to migration and ease in speaking English.
New technologies, such as livestreaming, were likewise cited as a big factor for the increasing incidents of cybercrime in the Philippines, of which 80 percent is online sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
In many cases, the parents were found to have facilitated the crime like in the case of Elsa, Sally and Omar.
The results of a Unicef study showed that one out of five children suffers from sexual abuse at home, in school and in the community. The same study found that 17.1 percent of children aged 13 to 18 experience sexual violence in any setting.
It also found that five out of 10 children suffer from cyber-violence, including verbal abuse and sexual messages over the internet or cellphone, being shown other people’s sex videos and photos, and having their own nude body or sexual activities shown in the internet or smartphone.
With 80 percent of Filipino children facing the risk of being exploited online, the Australian government has provided A$8 million (P280 million) for the six-year multi-pronged SaferKidsPH program to raise public awareness and ultimately stop the violence and exploitation of children in the country.
At the program launch last Tuesday, Australian Ambassador Steven Robinson was candid enough to admit that Australians were among the perpetrators of child abuse and exploitation such as child pornography.
“Online sexual exploitation and abuse of children is a crime that transcends territorial jurisdictions,” the envoy said, explaining the program’s objective.
“It is important to join efforts and bring together all sectors in the program to protect children. It is everybody’s business,” he said at the press conference that followed the program launch at Makati Shangri-La Hotel.
SaferKidsPH unites the Philippine and Australian governments, social welfare agencies and private telecommunications companies to protect children against online sexual exploitation.
Organizers said the program would involve parents, schools, private sector groups, civil society and media to promote online safety and prevent online sexual abuse and exploitation.
“We believe that strengthening child protection systems is crucial in addressing the problem that has been affecting children, mostly in deprived situations,” said Albert Muyot, chief executive officer of Save the Children Philippines.
“We are committed to working with local government units and civil society actors to ensure that there are policies, programs, services, budgets and school and community-based child protection mechanisms in place to address online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.
A representative from the Department of Justice said they had created task forces to specifically handle cases of trafficking of children.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development, for its part, will work towards making accountable the internet service providers, who do not monitor child pornographic activities.
“What we’re doing now is just a catalyst. We want SaferKidsPH to be owned by everyone and not just early members of the consortium or a single government. All of us have different roles and can really contribute,” Muyot said.
In its initial campaign, SaferKidsPH came up with 10 internet safety tips for children. These are:
1. Never show your personal details. Do not post or send your personal number, credit card details, home address, school’s name or your location to anyone you meet on any social networking site.
2. Never meet in person with anyone you first “met” online. If someone asks to meet you, tell your parents or guardian right away. Some people may not be who they say they are.
3. Never respond to mean, nasty, suggestive or rude emails or posts. Delete all unwanted messages. You may need to unfriend, delete, or unfollow people who continuously post content, which you find bothersome, distasteful and inappropriate.
4. Do not hang around a chat room if someone says or writes something, which makes you feel uncomfortable or worried.
5. Do not download and install any software on your phone, tablet or computer without checking first with your parents or guardian. Some applications may be harmful to your devices and compromise privacy.
6. Do not share your password with anyone, including your best friend. The only people who should know your password other than yourself are your parents or guardian.
7. Do tell your parents or guardian if you see bad language, distasteful pictures and inappropriate video while you are online.
8. Do remember that if someone makes you an offer that is too attractive like getting rich instantly, meeting a celebrity or making you famous, the offer is most likely a trap.
9. Use privacy settings on social networking sites. Keep them as high as possible.
10. Think carefully before posting pictures or videos of yourself. Once you uploaded a photo or video online, other people can see it and may be able to download it. Never post inappropriate photos of anyone, including yourself, your family and friends.
It has been said that the children are the future of the motherland. Let’s do our part in keeping them safe from any form of abuse and violence.