Fighting online sexual exploitation of children

by Ambassador B. Romualdez

| Photo by Governor Tom Wolf’s staff of Philadelphia via Wikimedia Commons

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

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

The study disclosed “disturbing findings” that the estimated prevalence of internet-based child sexual exploitation in the Philippines more than tripled within three years, with data from participating law enforcement agencies from across the globe showing that the country received more than eight times as many referrals as any other country during the 2010-2017 baseline period. A study by the UN International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) in 2016 also said that the Philippines has become “the global epicenter of the live-stream 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 hotlines, as well as law enforcement agencies, showed a consistent rise in the number of online child abuse images. According to Stock, 2021 was “the worst year on record” and warned that an even bigger number of children could become victims of abuse and exploitation due to internet connectivity.

“Online sexual exploitation of children or OSEC is considered the “modern face” of human trafficking and is described as one of the most heinous crimes in the world today because it victimizes children who are the most vulnerable members of society. “

“Every image, every video is evidence of a horrific crime with a real victim who suffers for the rest of their life,” Secretary General Stock said, sharing that “the sheer volume of images is already overwhelming law enforcement worldwide. Unless the public and private sectors do more to unify our efforts, we will only see this upward trend in cases grow.”

Based on data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private non-profit corporation funded by the US government, the Philippines has been identified as the top source of child sexual abuse materials. Our special envoy to UNICEF, Nikki Prieto-Teodoro, disclosed that the number of OSEC cases has almost tripled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the lockdowns playing a big part. The country has become number one for child trafficking and online pornography, Nikki said, noting that parents are actually “marketing their children online for a profit.”

According to Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla, chair of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, the government has declared war against online sexual exploitation of children, stressing that punishment is certain for those who engage in the exploitation. He also warned telecom companies and internet service providers that they would also be charged for OSEC if they refused to cooperate with the government in tracking down abusers. Some companies like PLDT are already utilizing technology to help prevent online sexual exploitation of children, with 1.3 billion attempts to open OSEC-related web addresses that have been blocked since the telco 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 move to help track the online payments made to the operators of these online sex sites, with a lot of the “paying customers” coming from Europe. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted that 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 certainly need to continue cooperating with other countries and international agencies to combat this horrific, disgusting and shameful crime that continues to be a growing threat to society.”

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

In a 2014 column titled Trafficking Filipino Children, I wrote about an international child prostitution ring that has been victimizing Filipino children and how their Filipino counterparts’ cooperation with British, Australian, and US authorities busted this ring. Codenamed “Operation Endeavor,” it took two years for the authorities to successfully uncover those behind the syndicate whose operations covered the US, Asia, and Europe. The criminals used the internet to set up cybersex dens and forced children to perform sexual acts in front of a web camera that streamed the child’s “performance” to a global audience.

One of the most traumatic things that can ever happen to a child is to become a victim of trafficking and sexual exploitation – but the worst is when parents themselves engage in the trafficking and sell their children. There is absolutely no question – the hottest place in hell should be reserved for them.

Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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