LGUs can cooperate with national government agencies in ensuring the safety of children during the pandemic.
Child rights advocates have sounded the alarm over the skyrocketing cases of online child abuse and exploitation in the country since the start of the Enhanced Community Quarantine in March last year.
Last February 9, national government agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT), and the Department of Justice (DOJ) joined the SaferKidsPH Consortium in this year’s kickoff ceremony of the Safer Internet Day for Children which aims to raise awareness on online sexual exploitation against children (OSEC).
Children most vulnerable online amid pandemic
Authorities believe that social media, as well as the conduct of online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, has made children more exposed to online content.
Although the internet helped 90% of Filipino children gain access to information online, Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) Deputy Executive Director Josef Andrew Mendoza said this has left them vulnerable to online abuse.
“Children are being subjected to an alarming number of cyberbullying. Protection alone cannot break the cycle of violence online.” Mendoza admitted.
Online child sex exploitation epidemic
Exposure to various forms of media and technological advancements has made the Philippines a global hotspot for online child sex exploitation, which was made worse by the pandemic.
The internet, which has become a necessity, is also used to take advantage of vulnerable people, especially girls.
In fact, Department of Social Welfare and Development reported that OSEC tips have increased by 204.63% in March last year. The increase of girls being depicted in abusive content has increased by 11% since 2018.
Challenge for PH justice system
Law enforcement agencies admit that dealing with child sexual abuse cases in the country is not an easy task.
64% of online sexual abuse case investigations in the country were initiated by foreign authorities.
Between March 2019 and December 2020, only 12 out of 74 OSEC facilitators who were arrested by the authorities were sentenced and convicted.
However, the pandemic was not the only factor that made OSEC cases worse. The Department of Justice admitted that the unavailability of electronic evidence to prove the existence of online child abuse content, as well as uncooperative victims who would not want to press charges against their facilitators, who are mostly within their circle of trust, contributed in the worsening online child abuse cases in the country.
Internet Service Providers also have their hands tied because they do not have the technical ability to disclose subscriber information relating to the identified IP address as advancements in technology made it difficult to detect instances of OSEC.
And even if law enforcement agencies do have the technology needed to track down online child exploiters, telecommunications companies say that purveyors of illicit content can reproduce alternate websites to make it easily accessible and shareable to others.
As part of their continuous fight against child exploitation online, IACAP has affirmed their continuous support to the national government, through the DICT, in creating an action plan on making the internet safer for children.