A LOCAL court in Davao City has sentenced a 32-year-old mother to four life terms in prison after she sexually abused her six-year-old son and a one-year-old girl for profit, boosting the country’s efforts to curb online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC).
“This conviction is another testament to the government’s relentless effort in combating and ending trafficking in persons, especially OSEC,” Regional Prosecutor Janet Grace Dalisay-Fabrero said of the court decision dated October 16, 2023.
The decision, however, was only made public on November 15 through the International Justice Mission (IJM), a non-governmental organization that has helped authorities on cyber child abuse in the country since 2016.
The verdict became one of the strongest penalties ever imposed in cases of OSEC in the country.
It is estimated that nearly half a million Filipino children were OSEC victims in 2022 alone, with nearly a quarter of a million adult Filipinos perpetrating this form of exploitation during the same period.
The trafficking, child abuse, and offering of child sexual abuse material were made through the use of a computer system, including livestreaming.
According to IJM, their partnership with Philippine authorities “led to a dramatic decrease in the prevalence of sex trafficking of children in bars and brothels—reductions ranging from 72 to 86 percent in the cities where we partnered with local authorities.”
Glimmer of hope
In August 2021, the U.S. State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and IJM launched “A Strong Network Care” project to support survivors of online sexual exploitation in the Philippines.
The two-year project built the capacity of a Philippine network of social services to provide comprehensive and trauma-informed care for survivors, empowering them toward healthy reintegration.
Jamie Sutter, international program officer of the U.S. Department Office’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, maintained that the work of combating online sexual exploitation of children “is not solely a two-year endeavor, but a long-term commitment that we must all remain committed to.”
Philippine OSEC at a glance
As of November this year, there were 1,198 victims relieved or at-risk removed from online child abuse, 372 suspects arrested, 212 perpetrators convicted, and 348 survivors restored.
Live-streaming OSEC is not unique to the Philippines, but it is believed to be more prevalent in the Philippines than in other countries.
This happened due to various reasons including the country’s historic commercial and underground sex industry reputation, a robust money remittance infrastructure, inexpensive internet access, and English language proficiency, IJM said in a statement.
In 2021, IJM partnered with the University of Nottingham Rights Lab in a study called “Scale of Harm” to develop a methodology to estimate the prevalence of this crime across the Philippines.
It said nearly half a million children were trafficked to produce new child sexual exploitation materials in 2022, or approximately one in every 100 Filipino children.
Nearly a quarter of a million Filipino adults trafficked children to create OSEC materials, IJM added.
Roughly three in every 1,000 adults participated in this crime.
It was calculated that for every trafficker, there are 3.5 child victims.
Traffickers are often relatives of the children—parents, family members, or close friends.
On August 23, 2022, the Philippine government declared the “War on OSEC,” as it worked on a “comprehensive approach” to address the problem through its justice, social welfare, and law enforcement agencies.
The government has partnered with telecommunications companies and Internet service providers (ISP) “to filter the OSEC payment transactions.”
On the community level, village councils activated their child protection council, drafted ordinances that support law enforcement and child protection efforts and urged the public to report any suspected cases of sexual exploitation to the task force through emergency numbers.
The Catholic church in the country also consecrated one Sunday of the year as a National Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.
“I was there, experienced and witnessed the horrors of online sexual abuse,” said Ruby (pseudonym), an OSEC victim.
“What we really lack now is the support from the community and government. It is impossible to end child sexual abuse online without whole society solutions,” she added.