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Fight against online child sexual exploitation

For seven consecutive years, the Philippines has maintained its Tier 1 ranking in the Trafficking in Persons Report released annually by the US State Department. In the latest report released last July, he noted that the Philippines continues to make serious and sustained efforts to combat human trafficking despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but made several recommendations, including increased efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict complicit officials and labor traffickers. . But one priority recommendation that was quite poignant to those who read the report was the need to increase support for programs that provide specialized care for child victims of sexual exploitation.

Online Child Sexual Exploitation or OSEC is considered the “modern face” of human trafficking and described as one of the most heinous crimes in the world today as it victimizes children who are the most most vulnerable in society. A 2019 study by the International Justice Mission – a non-governmental organization based in Washington, DC – which was released in May last year identified the Philippines as a “global hotspot” for OSEC.

The study found “disturbing findings” that the estimated prevalence of online child sexual exploitation in the Philippines has more than tripled in three years, with data from participating law enforcement agencies around the world showing that the country received more than eight times as many referrals as any other country during the 2010-2017 reporting period. A study by the United Nations International Fund for Children’s Education (UNICEF) in 2016 also indicated that the Philippines has become “the global epicenter of the live sexual abuse trade, and many of the victims are children”. .

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last May, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock revealed during a panel discussion on cybersecurity that data from private industry and public helplines as well as law enforcement agencies were showing a steady increase in the number of child abuse images online. According to Stock, 2021 was “the worst year on record” and warned that even more children could be victims of abuse and exploitation due to internet connectivity.

“Every image, every video is evidence of a horrific crime with a real victim suffering for the rest of their life,” Secretary General Stock said, sharing that “the sheer volume of images is already overwhelming the forces of the order around the world. Unless the public and private sectors do more to unite our efforts, we will only see this trend of rising cases increase.

Based on data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private non-profit corporation funded by the US government, the Philippines was identified as the top source of child pornography material. Our Special Envoy to UNICEF, Nikki Prieto-Teodoro, revealed that the number of OSEC cases has nearly tripled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with lockdowns playing a significant role. The country has become number one for child trafficking and online pornography, Nikki said, noting that parents are “in fact marketing their children online for profit”.

Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla, chairman of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, says government has declared war on online child sexual exploitation, stressing that punishment is certain for those who engage in exploitation . He also warned telecommunications companies and internet service providers that they would also be charged for OSEC if they refused to cooperate with the government in tracking down the attackers. Some companies like PLDT are already using technology that can help prevent online child sexual exploitation, with 1.3 billion attempts to open OSEC-related web addresses blocked since the company started. telecommunications has launched its child protection platform.

Considering that online child pornography has become a very lucrative, billion-dollar global industry, the cooperation between the DOJ and the Anti-Money Laundering Council is a good initiative to help track online payments made to operators of these online sex sites, with a lot of “paying customers” coming from Europe. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has noted, technology has given consumers “the ability to anonymously demand increasingly dangerous and degrading content that fuels human trafficking.”

OSEC is a global problem that has been going on for many years, and we must certainly continue to cooperate with other countries and international agencies to combat this horrible, disgusting and shameful crime that continues to be a growing threat to society. . In some of my meetings with officials from the US State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, they have confirmed that the Philippines is one of the countries most vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. children online, and encouraged us to continue our collaboration. to combat this global threat.

In a 2014 column titled “Filipino Child Trafficking”, I wrote about an international child prostitution ring that victimized Filipino children, and how cooperation with British, Australian and American authorities by their Filipino counterparts shatter this network. Dubbed “Operation Endeavour”, it took authorities two years to successfully uncover those responsible for the syndicate whose network of operations spans the United States, Asia and Europe. Criminals used the internet to create cybersex dens and forced children to perform sex acts in front of a web camera that broadcast the child’s “performance” to a global audience.

One of the most traumatic things that can happen to a child is being trafficked and sexually exploited – but the worst is when it is the parents themselves who traffic and sell their own children. There is absolutely no doubt – the hottest place in hell should be reserved for them.

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