Many of them are thrown into this “business” at a very early age – younger than 10. Most of them are girls although boys are also affected. The sexual exploitation of children has long been a serious problem in the Philippines and with technology it has taken another evil form as well.
World Vision Philippines, a Christian child-focused organization, gave some statistics about sexual exploitation of children on the occasion of their 60th anniversary in the Philippines:
- The Philippines ranks 10th worldwide on prevalence of sexual exploitation among children aged 10-14
- 1 out of 10 children experience sexual violence in the home
- 17.1% of children experienced sexual violence while growing up
- 50% of reported cases on cyber crime is online child abuse
- Children as young as 3 months old are victims of livestream sexual abuse
The U.S. Department of State, in its 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, said: “The Philippines is a source country and, to a lesser extent, a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.” The report also said that, in particular, “women and children from indigenous families and remote areas of the Philippines are most vulnerable to sex trafficking and some are vulnerable to domestic servitude and other forms of forced labor.”
Specifically on the subject of child trafficking, the report also stated that it “remains a pervasive problem, typically abetted by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations. Very young Filipino children are coerced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners; this typically occurs in private residences or small internet cafés and is facilitated increasingly by victims’ close family relatives. NGOs report greater numbers of child sex tourists in the Philippines, many of whom are nationals of Australia, Japan, the United States, and countries in Europe; Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims…”
The sad truth is that our very own citizens are helping to perpetuate these abuses. As the U.S. State Department report mentioned, in many instances, the parents and relatives of these young lives are often the ones pushing them into doing sexual acts in front of a webcam for the money. As a parent, I cannot imagine how anyone could put her kids in harm’s way and yet, we have seen parents pimp their own children to pedophiles because of abject poverty and lack of livelihood sources. It is also only too easy nowadays with technology. All one needs is access to an internet connection, a webcam or smartphone, and a child. Internet cafes with private rooms are often where these abuses happen but we have also heard of raids on houses where such exploitations happen in the family sleeping areas.
This Rappler article describes the crackdown on a child pornography ring where the sources of live videos came from the coastal community of Ibabao in Cebu. The sexual exploitation of children did not just involve one home but several homes as well. This almost went undetected because of the village’s remote location and because “some elected village leaders with relatives involved ignored the crimes.”
It also does not help that being a disaster-prone country, the onslaught of super typhoons and major earthquakes have reduced many families in the low middle class bracket to the poverty level. When government agencies are unable to cope, manpower-wise and financially, with the burden of caring for its citizens, the protection of children is relegated to an even lower priority level. Proof of this were the instances of rape happening to young children and teenagers in slum-like shelters they were housed in after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck. Such disasters also make children vulnerable enough to resort to food-for-sex just to survive.
World Vision Philippines recently launched a 3-year advocacy campaign to combat the sexual abuse of children online. Entitled “It Takes a World to End Sexual Exploitation of Children”, the campaign aims to reach and protect at least three (3) million children and protect them from online sexual exploitation and other forms of violence children are vulnerable to.
The campaign was launched in partnership with the International Justice Mission (IJM), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Inter-agency Against Trafficking (IACAT), and other like-minded groups. No less than World Vision International Ambassador Marilee Pierce-Dunker, daughter of the World Vision founder Dr. Bob Pierce, graced the occasion. With her were World Vision Philippines’ Board of Trustees Chair, Atty. Liwayway Vinzons-Chato.
The campaign will be implemented within the following area programs of World Vision Philippines:
1st year: Manila, Cebu, and Misamis Occidental
2nd year: Malabon, Albay, North Cebu, Leyte, Bukidnon, and West Misamis
3rd year: Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Batangas, Pangasinan, Sorsogon, Leyte, Samar, Bohol, Aklan, Antique, Zamboanga del Norte, and North Cotabato
The campaign will have a 5-pronged strategy:
- Raise awareness
- Empower caregivers and children
- Establish an online hotline
- Support frontliners, rescue operations and legal interventions
- Support safe shelters and reintegration programs
At the end of three years, World Vision expects the following outcomes:
- Care groups are able to demonstrate behaviors that provide a caring and protective environment for all children especially the most vulnerable children
- Increased accountability and good governance for child protection
- Multi-sectoral response that implements measures to prevent and address sexual exploitation of children
The good news is that the Philippines’ actions to curb trafficking are improving. According to the same U.S. State Department’s report, the Philippines got a Tier 1 ranking (meaning, our government fully met the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards in 2016). This was the first time since 2009 that the Philippines achieved a Tier 1 ranking. In fact, it was the only country in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region that was in the Tier 1 listing.
While this ranking could be considered a milestone, the report still contained recommendations for the Philippines. Among the recommendations that pertained specifically to sexual exploitation were:
- Developing and implementing programs aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts, including child sex tourism and online child sexual exploitation
- Increasing efforts to investigate and prosecute government officials for trafficking and trafficking-related offenses
- Expanding efforts to ensure victim-friendly criminal justice proceedings for victim witnesses, particularly child victims, to prevent re-traumatization from multiple interviews and protracted shelter stays throughout the duration of court cases
The World Vision Philippines’ campaign to stomp out the sexual exploitation of children is laudable. However, they won’t be able to do it alone. It will definitely take all of us to put an end to it. The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (R.A. 9208) as well as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (R.A. 10175) are there to define what criminal acts they cover and corresponding penalties. However, it is the vigilance within communities, continuing education of families, programs of government that address livelihood concerns of families with kids vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and the cooperation/coordination of different sectors of society that will eventually help stop it.
As citizens, we have important roles to play. We need to be extra watchful in our own communities and report anything that appears suspect especially when it comes to the safety of children. It is also important to continue calling out anything that trivializes the seriousness of sexual exploitation or weakens efforts to go after child predators.
The Philippine National Police has a Women and Children Protection Center (Tel. 02-4103213). The Department of Social Welfare and Development is also on social media (Twitter: @dswdserves; Facebook: www.facebook.com/dswdserves). DSWD Sec. Judy Taguiwalo herself is also on Twitter (@sec_judy).
This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).