Education Secretary Leonor Briones has ordered an investigation on the reported selling of sensual photos and videos of students online to raise funds for expenses related to distance learning which is currently being implemented in private and public schools and universities nationwide.
Brione said the DepEd is already conducting a separate investigation and “currently consolidating reports from field offices” related to the reported selling of sensitive photos and videos of students online.
Citing initial reports, Briones said students allegedly resorted to “selling their private videos and photos to have sufficient funding for online learning.” However, the DepEd maintained that “gadgets or internet connections are not requirements for distance learning” as there are other alternative distance learning modalities.
In September, 2020, UNICEF Philippines urged the Philippine government to “protect the future of Filipino children” by combating online sexual abuse amid the pandemic.
UNICEF Philippines said that as children stay at home due to quarantine restrictions, they are at increased risk of online sex trafficking and exploitation. Citing data from the Philippine National Police (PNP), UNICEF said that the “Philippines is considered the number one source of child pornography and a source of income for many who are living in the margins of society.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the incidence of online sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative, Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov. “Children are increasingly becoming victims of circumstances that are harmful to their development and well-being. This must stop,” she added.
In a separate statement, Child Rights Network (CRN) reported increasing reports of OSAEC amid the pandemic. “OSAEC (online sexual abuse and exploitation of children) remains rampant in the Philippines despite the passage of landmark child protection laws,” CRN said.
“With wider access to the Internet, coupled with the socioeconomic hardships brought about by the onslaught of COVID-19, online sexual predators are taking advantage of the situation to abuse more children online,” said CRN Convenor Romeo Dongeto.
Dongeto added that this spike in OSAEC reports can be “directly attributed to the grave confluence of factors” such as the economic hardship faced by many low-income families that force some parents to commit such unspeakable acts on their children.
For the first time, DepEd is implementing a distance learning approach for the basic education level. As a response to the ongoing COVID-19 situation in the country, DepEd opened the school year 2020-2021 under a distance learning set-up where students learn their lessons at home.
With face-to-face classes strictly prohibited, DepEd came up with the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) wherein the major component of learning delivery is through alternative modes such as printed and offline modular, online, TV and radio-based instruction or blended learning.
Despite repeated reminders of DepEd that students do not need gadgets and Internet connection to continue their studies, there are still those who insist on attending online lessons citing the challenges in other delivery modes.