Violence against children takes many forms – physical, emotional, and sexual – and in many settings like the child’s own home, community, school, and online. In the Philippines, even before the pandemic, children experienced high prevalence of violence whether at home, in school, workplace, community, or during dating, according to a National Baseline Study on Violence against Children by the Council for the Welfare of Children and UNICEF Philippines
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated children’s vulnerability to violence and exploitation. Globally, around 1.8 billion children live in the 104 countries where violence prevention and response services have been disrupted due to COVID-19.
In the Philippines, the Office of Cybercrime of the Department of Justice reported a 260 percent increase in cyber-tips related to online sexual exploitation and abuse of children (OSEAC).
Sexual predators, locked in their homes due to quarantine, have increasingly turned to cyberspace in order to victimize children. Likewise, the economic hardship brought about by the pandemic is compelling many Filipino families to participate in this online sexual trafficking just to survive.
The Philippine government, led by Social Welfare and Development Secretary Rolando Bautista, recently held a high-level dialogue with the United Nations Special Representative on Violence Against Children (VAC) Dr. Najat Maalla on the progress of the Philippine Plan of Action to End Violence Against Children 2017-2022 (PPA EVAC), identify challenges in preventing and responding to violence against children, and identifying key actions required to accelerate the implementation of the plan and build back safer for children during and beyond COVID-19.
Various family stressors such as movement restrictions, loss of income, overcrowding, school closure, and disruption of services have exacerbated mental health risks in both adults and children, and increased various forms of violence within the family, such as domestic violence, and child physical and sexual abuse.
On the impact of COVID-19 on children, Dr. Najat highlighted the need for the government to use the recovery from the pandemic as an opportunity to “build back better with and for children.” She stressed the need to “bring together all key stakeholders for increased public expenditure and partnerships on an integrated system of services for children, including for physical and mental health, education, child welfare and protection, and justice.”
The Philippine government reaffirmed its commitment to eliminate violence against children, as reflected in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and key national policies and legislation.
The government will also prioritize measures to strengthen inter-sectoral coordination, strengthen child protection systems at national and local levels, consolidate data collection and monitoring, reporting and referral mechanisms, and continue the expansion of child protection services.
This is not the first time that a serious infectious disease may have increased the likelihood of trafficking of children. But trafficking has become a major lucrative crime in a pandemic-rocked world with supply chains cut off for other forms of illicit activities and lockdown measures creating severe vulnerabilities for those most at risk, helping to create the next generation of human trafficking victims.
At this difficult time, when so many are suffering the consequences of COVID-19 and its accompanying economic fallout, it is critical that combating violence against children and trafficking remains a focus of the government — at the local and national levels, law enforcement, philanthropists, and the private sector.
The time to save our children is NOW.