The Department of Justice (DoJ) relayed Wednesday to the House Committee on Welfare of Children that despite the government’s imposition of lockdown last year, there has been “significant” increase in the number of victims rescued from online sexual abuse and exploitation from 2019 to 2020.
During the House panel’s initial virtual probe on the increasing cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC), DoJ-Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) deputy executive director Atty. Ma. Yvette Coronel said from 2019 to 2020, there is a comparative increase in the numbers of operations conducted and rescued victims involving OSEC-related crimes.
She noted the data is culled from the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC), which is a partnership between the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the NBI-Anti Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD).
“From 2019, from a number of 36 operations carried out by the PICACC, it increased to 58 in 2020, and there is significant increase in the number of victims rescued from 120 in 2019 to 172 in 2020.Bear in mind, that in 2020 we had lockdowns related to COVID-19,” she told the panel, chaired by Tingog Sinirangan partylist Rep. Yedda Marie Romualdez.
However, the PICACC data showed that arrests made against OSEC perpetrators slightly decreased to 35 in 2020 from 39 in 2019.
“Same with the data on NBI, there is also an increase from a mere two operations in 2019, it ballooned to 14 in 2020 and 19 victims rescued in 2020 and four victims rescued in 2019,” Coronel said.
The DoJ official also cited that there is an increase in PICACC operations from November 2015 to 2020. “From 12 victims rescued to a high of 170 in 2020,” she said.
Coronel also affirmed the steady rise in the number of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses used for child sexual exploitation, citing the study conducted by the International Justice Mission (IJM).
Even before the pandemic, which happened in 2020 and which is still happening, there is steady rise from 2013 until now. There is steady rise or increase in the number of IP addresses identified for OSEC-related activities and this reached a peak of about 4, 872 IP addresses in 2017,” she said.
Citing the IJM study, she said the Philippines received more than eight times as many referrals as any other country identified by the Global Law Enforcement Case Data.
“From the study of the IJM based on the Global Law Enforcement Case Data ,it affirms that the Philippines is a global hotspot or epicenter for OSEC.”
In her opening speech, Romualdez, one of the principal authors of House Resolution No. 1118, described the rising OSEC as “a silent pandemic has begun to plague the most vulnerable and helpless in our community – our children.”
Under HR 1118, the House leader, along with House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez and Pangasinan Rep. Christopher de Venecia sought congressional probe on the rising OSEC cases in the country.
She noted that in 2018 alone, the DoJ- Office of Cybercrime (DoJ-OCC) reported at least 600,000 child sexual abuse materials from the Philippines, marking a 1,300 percent increase from the previous year. “We can no longer keep our eyes blind, and our ears deaf to the growing threat of online sexual exploitation of children,” she said.
“My dear colleagues, the gross prevalence of OSEC in our society today is simply undeniable. But this issue requires a multi-sectoral approach, requiring wider community partnerships to bridge existing gaps in our child protection laws so that we are able to not only nip OSEC in the bud, but more importantly allow our children to grow in the safe environment that they deserve.”
De Venecia lamented that the Philippines is one of the top global sources of child sex abuse materials, quoting the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
He noted that in 2018 alone, 600,000 sexualized photos of Filipino children were bartered and traded.
“Also, the incidence of child online sexual abuse and exploitation in the country is worsening amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” the chairperson of the House Committee on Creative Industry and Performing Arts said.
De Venecia said due to quarantine restrictions, children are at risk of falling victim to online sex trafficking and exploitation, which are harmful to their development and well-being.
“The rising incidence of OSEC must stop and to safeguard our common commitment and adherence to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child which seeks to uphold every child’s right to be free from various forms of harm that includes sexual exploitation, regardless of where they live online or offline,” De Venecia said.