More Filipino children exposed to online sexual abuses

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 12 February) — An advocacy group has expressed alarm over the increasing number of Filipino children getting exposed to various threats on the internet, particularly sexual abuse or exploitation.

At the online launch of “Web Safe & Wise Campaign” on Friday , Allan Nuñez, advocacy specialist for ChildFund Philippines, said the country is known as a “global epicenter” of the Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children (OSAEC).

He said the production of images of sexual abuse and exploitation has significantly increased in the country. At least 600,000 images and videos of naked, sexualized, and abused Filipino children were uploaded, shared and sold online in 2018, he said.

He noted that this number significantly increased by 256% during the COVID-19 pandemic as most children spent more time on the internet due to lockdowns and schools shifted to online classes.

He said spending more time in the online environment during the pandemic was a “perfect trap” set up by people who took advantage of the situation to victimize more children in the country.

The pandemic lockdowns started in March 2020. Face-to-face classes resumed only late last year. 

Anand Vishwakarma, country director of Childfund Philippines, said “Websafe and Wise” is a global effort headed by Childfund Alliance to” build an accessible, safe, and exclusive digital world for children and youth.” 

Nuñez said the group was also alarmed that household members who are “economically burdened” have been forced to sexually exploit or abuse the children in exchange for money.

He said the “Web Safe & Wise Campaign” was launched to educate stakeholders in the private sector, particularly the media, to contribute to efforts in eliminating online threats against children.

“Every child in the Philippines should enjoy a safer and better digital environment free from all forms of online abuse and exploitation and violence,” he stressed. 

Around half of the 44 million Filipino internet users are children aged 17 years old and below, he added. 

Nuñez said there is a need to protect the children from age-inappropriate content across all online platforms. He explained that this includes engaging the minors for a consultation and educating them, including the private sector and media practitioners, through webinar series, training, community education and outreach.

He said the media are responsible in ensuring informed reporting on issues related to child online safety and protection and should follow an ethical approach to covering issues involving OSAEC.

“Media plays an instrumental role in protecting children by increasing public discourse on the issue,” he said.

Ariel Sebellino, executive director of the Philippine Press Institute, added that efforts and initiatives must be smarter to combat challenges and problems. 

“People just don’t know that once kids are left like that, they are already exposed to so many dangers, be it potential or real. These are the realities now,” he said.

He added that the role of journalists in addressing these online dangers is “very critical and crucial.” (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)