The Church must support law challenging ISPs to protect children

by Fr. Shay Cullen

St. Peter’s Cathedral – Rome, Italy | Photo by Sergey Ashmarin via Wikimedia Commons

Online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) is the shocking reality that all parents, guardians, church leaders, and business corporations have to challenge and confront, but they don’t. It is spreading everywhere and trapping children and youth in sexual abuse and extortion systems, and it is frequently met with a cold stony silence by those whose duty is to protect children.

The telecommunication corporations and their Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are held responsible by a new bill amending RA 9775 to protect children by installing software blocking the transmission of child sexual abuse materials. In the past, they refused to cite contradictions in the law. The bill has now addressed these objections and excuses, and if passed into law, they would have no reason not to obey the law as contained in Senate Bill 2209.

Child sexual abuse materials can be accessed by anyone online by cell phone. These readily available materials drive the actual abuse and rape of children by other children, my parents, relatives, and neighborhood pedophiles. The church and government have to speak out and act to stop and prevent it by insisting the law is enforced.

It is an alarming situation documented by reliable government agencies. Eight out of ten Filipino children suffered violence in their lifetime (CWC and UNICEF, 2016). The Philippines is now 12th among countries with the highest incidence of modern-day sex slavery in the Asia Pacific, with more than 700,000 cases of trafficking annually (Global Slavery Index, 2018).

Research studies find the Philippines as the global epicenter of the live-stream sexual abuse trade, where one in every five children is vulnerable to online sexual exploitation (Unicef, 2016). A shocking statistic is that one in every five children between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced online sexual abuse (UNICEF, Interpol, ECPAT, 2021). It makes two million children who suffered some form of abuse.

The moral values of the nation, church, and family are grievously violated on an unprecedented scale by the influence of child sexual abuse materials passed over the internet to cell phones. Recently, three 10-year-old boys viewed child abuse images on a cell phone and then raped a six-year-old. It is only one of several such cases that have come to our attention. Incredibly, it is in the child’s home where the crime of child sexual abuse mostly happens with a family member as the perpetrator or as facilitators of child trafficking and online sexual exploitation for money. The child victims are damaged for life.

“Teaching people to go to church to get to heaven is a selfish theology. True Christianity, as Jesus of Nazareth intended, is to be an active prophetic advocate for the truth, to defend the dignity and rights of the human person, especially the children, the poor, and the oppressed. That’s what he did, and he was executed for doing it.”

The Preda Foundation’s home for abused girls in Zambales reported that among the 96 children (who were victims of sexual abuse, rape, and acts of lasciviousness) helped by Preda therapists and social workers, the perpetrators were 20 biological fathers, six grandfathers, five male cousins, four brothers, three uncles, three live-in partners of the mother or stepfathers, and three mothers (for trafficking of their own children).

This data shows a bleak contrast compared to previous data (before the pandemic), where stepfathers or live-in partners of the mother consistently top the list of perpetrators. Now, biological fathers are the lead rapists. The empowered children in the Preda therapeutic program gain self-confidence, strike back, bring cases against their abusers, and win an average of 16 convictions every year.

Where is the Catholic Church active in preventing this terrible child abuse? Teaching people to go to church to get to heaven is a selfish theology. True Christianity, as Jesus of Nazareth intended, is to be an active prophetic advocate for the truth, to defend the dignity and rights of the human person, especially the children, the poor, and the oppressed. That’s what he did, and he was executed for doing it.

A true Christian is a person of compassion who takes an uncompromising stand against evil and risks sacrificing themselves to help their neighbor in need. The model Jesus gave is that of the Good Samaritan. He was an outcast, a foreigner, a rejected person, and not a Jew. Yet, that person is the example of the love of neighbor that Jesus gave to the world. It is clear that the most important in the Kingdom of God are children. Jesus declared to accept and protect a child is to accept him and be one with him. (Matthew 18: 1-7)

A new law amending the 2009 Anti-child Pornography Law RA 9775 is soon to be signed into Philippine law for more excellent protection of children against abuse over the computers of the ISPs. The amended law declares illegal any act that promotes or allows the abuse of children through online sexual abuse and exploitation and orders the Telecommunication Corporations (ISPs) to “develop and adopt a set of systems and procedures for preventing, blocking, detecting, and reporting of OSAEC committed within their platforms, which are compatible with the services and products they offer. . .”

“It is the duty of the public, church leaders, government officials, NGOs, and law enforcers to work together to see that the law is implemented and children are protected and saved.”

If the blocking software fails to detect the live streaming or other illegal content, the ISPs must cooperate entirely with the authorities and report the abusive materials in their systems. The ISPs must respond within 24 hours and delete and block the illegal content on their platforms, remove any form of child abuse and exploitation materials, and cooperate fully in identifying the people behind posting the unlawful content.

The text says, “or to block the streaming and/or live-streaming of child sexual abuse or exploitation material within twenty-four (24) hours from receipt of notice as described above shall be prima facie evidence of knowledge, as punished under Section 4(c) of this Act; The ISPs must, “furnish on the written request of the PNP or the NBI, investigating authorities, prosecutors, or the courts, with no need of a warrant, and concerning a case of OSAEC pending before their office, the subscriber information and/or traffic data, of any person who gained or attempted to gain access to an internet address or internet application containing any form of child sexual abuse or exploitation materials….”

It makes it clear that the telecommunications corporations will be held responsible for allowing the passage of the illegal child sexual abuse material through their server computers. Failure by the ISP to respond will be a fine of two million pesos for the first offense, and the second could be the cancellation of their license to operate. It is the duty of the public, church leaders, government officials, NGOs, and law enforcers to work together to see that the law is implemented and children are protected and saved.

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