Online child sexual exploitation in the Philippines nearly tripled during quarantine — DOJ

MANILA, Philippines — Thousands of reports of online child sexual exploitation flooded in while mainland Luzon was under enhanced community quarantine, the justice department disclosed on Monday.

Citing data by private nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the Department of Justice Office of Cybercrime said that 279,166 incidents were reported from March 1 to May 24 in 2020; a stark contrast compared to the 76,561 cases logged this time last year—equivalent to 202,605 more cases or a 264.6% rise. 

Mainland Luzon was placed under enhanced community quarantine on March 17, while some areas were graduated to modified ECQ and general community quarantine almost a month later on May 16. 

“The aforesaid increase in NCMEC CTRs is attributable to the fact that during the ECQ, strict home quarantine is observed in all households, and internet usage surges as people stay home,” the statement read. 

The justice department said in its statement that NCMEC receives reports from companies like Facebook, Yahoo! and Gmail by virtue of a US law, though not all data forwarded by the center is recorded as cases of online sexual exploitation of children, as some reports tend to be duplicates, inaccurately reported, or unmalicious.

Laws without teeth 

As of this publishing, the International Justice Mission, the Child Rights Network (CRN) and even the UNICEF have acknowledged the Philippines as the world’s largest known source of online child sexual exploitation. 

Even as early as February, the CRN said that laws meant to address online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines had largely failed, as evidenced by the continued rise in cases. 

The DOJ-OOC admitted this in its statement, saying: “For the time being, there is no law in the Philippines that directly defines and penalizes OSEC.”

Today, child protection laws including the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 are invoked, the justice department said.

Data from the Philippine National Police on the other hand shows that 602 people across the country were raped from March 17 to May 23 or an average of eight people daily.

Amid reports of sexual abuse at the hands of police officers, the chief of the national police has asked victims to come forward and file formal complaints. 

Internet service providers

The department pointed to the role that internet service providers play in curbing these cases, highlighting that technological solutions need to work alongside legal and policy in order for the Philippine government to effectively and efficiently combat online sexual exploitation of children.

“It is unfortunate that eleven years after the law that prohibits any form of child pornography was passed, the ISPs have continued to be remiss in its duty to install blocking or filtering technology that would have greatly reduced the amount of time necessary to identify perpetrators and victims, and proactively removed access to any form of OSEC in the internet,” the DOJ said.

“We are confident that ISPs will voluntarily comply with the law requiring them to install technology that will block or filter out materials that exploit children,” Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete told reporters in a statement. 

“They know that such a legal obligation is automatically read into their franchises and permits to operate,” he added. 

“And they realize, more than anyone, that without such technology, this trend of victimization of children who are the most vulnerable among us will remain unabated.” — with reports from Kristine Joy Patag

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