By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
To help curb online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) in the Philippines, the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the country urged the Congress to review child protection laws.
“The Philippines needs better laws to curb online sexual exploitation of children,” said Child Rights Network (CRN) as it led the recent launching of the #ShutdownOSEC campaign on Tuesday (Feb. 11).
CRN called on Congress to help stop OSEC by “reviewing and updating our current laws to encompass appropriate definitions of OSEC terms, accountability of the private sector to children, child rescue and rehabilitation, and punishment of perpetrators.”
At the launch, child rights organizations, legislators, private sector, and youth representatives also discussed OSEC cases in the Philippines, laws invoked against it, and how various sectors in the country can contribute to shutting it down.
Serious damage to children
CRN noted that online sexual exploitation “seriously damages children” and “leads to depression, social isolation, and even suicide attempts.”
“What’s worse is that OSEC has become a family business for some, diminishing its menace as an actual form of sexual abuse of children,” CRN said. To date, the network said the full scale and reach of OSEC in the country remains “unknown.” However, latest data indicates that the Philippines “has been described as a top global source of child sexual abuse materials.”
CRN Convenor Romeo Dongeto said with the current trend, “it cannot be business as usual.” He noted that the “very dynamic” technology enables the issue’s prevalence. “Hence, we should also be dynamic and agile in our response; we need to start working on stopping OSEC now.”
CRN also noted that the Philippines has OSEC cases because “our systems have less than completely detected and prosecuted them.”
“Despite our laws being designed to be comprehensive to punish all possible cases of child abuse, their all encompassing nature’ do not capture the commensurate punishment for OSEC,” CRN added.
To date, the most referenced laws for OSEC are Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, followed by the Cybercrime Prevention Act, Anti-Child Pornography Act, and the Anti-Child Abuse Act. However, CRN noted that these laws “do not clearly define OSEC, punish the livestreaming of child sexual abuse, and impose obligations on [the] private sector to prevent and stop OSEC.”
CRN noted that the latest data showed that in 2018 alone, at least 600,000 naked and sexualized photos and videos of Filipino children were shared and sold online. Out of these thousands of cases, only 27 perpetrators were convicted in 2018.
To help address OSEC cases in the Philippines, CRN said there should be stronger support from various stakeholders.
Among those who participated in the launch were government allies Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Tingog Sinirangan party-list Rep. Yedda Romualdez, who is chair of the House committee on the welfare of children.
“More allies are needed to make sure that appropriate actions are taken on both houses of Congress, and that legal reforms will be signed into law,” CRN said.
“We call on our leaders in government to help us shut down OSEC and we need to make sure our laws are updated to penalize violators and protect more children from the harms of OSEC,” Dongeto said.
For CRN, civil society “cannot do it alone” so “we need a whole of nation approach if we are to stop this terrible crime that robs children of their future.”
CRN also urged the public to participate in the #ShutDownOSEC campaign by learning about OSEC and reporting it to the proper channels, such as authorities and other groups promoting children’s rights and welfare.
The #ShutdownOSEC launch was a follow-on activity to ChildFund Philippines and CRN’s workshop with the media last December 2019, where they proposed guidelines for reporting OSEC cases in the news.