*triggering content including sexual abuse of children
 

There is a deplorable danger that children in the Philippines are facing, one that has increased during the nationwide quarantine. According to the Child Rights Network, the number of online sexual exploitation crimes against children in the Philippines has tripled during the quarantine period. The network calls for Filipinos to guard against the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) in light of the spike in cases, as the country reels from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

UNICEF reports that the Philippines has become the global epicentre of the live-stream sexual abuse trade. In the Covid-19 era, many criminal activities are moving online, taking advantage of the increased time people spend connected at home. This has increased demand by perpetrators abroad at a time children are at heightened risk of exploitation.

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Children in the Phillipines playing. Photo/ Compassion International.

What is OSEC and why the Philippines?
 
OSEC is a growing internet-based crime where abuse or lewd acts against children are streamed to predators all over the world. On the other side of the call are paedophiles in the United States, Canada, Australia, and other developed nations, who pay 'facilitators' to sexually abuse the children through online live streaming. Local facilitators may be trafficking groups but sadly are also relatives and even parents of the child victims.
 
Facilitators handle online transactions and convince and coerce the children to comply. International Justice Mission (IJM) in the Philippines believes that OSEC is “the darkest form of exploitation against our children because it involves family members. About 38% of the time, the parents are involved,” said Alex Mallillin, an IJM representative in the Philippines. IJM believes the Philippines is a hot spot for OSEC because of the wide use of English, easy, cheap internet connections, inexpensive second-hand mobile phones, widespread international cash transfer systems, and most vital of all, pressing poverty that has even been heightened by the pandemic. OSEC promises quick money—a family in poverty could earn in a week what they could not normally make in a year.
 
In July 2018, Compassion Philippines, Tearfund’s partner, began partnering with IJM to fight the online sexual exploitation of children together. “I am aware that the same group that we are ministering to—children in poverty—is the same group that is being targeted by the perpetrators of OSEC because they are poor and desperate,” said Noel Pabiona, national director of Compassion in the Philippines.

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A child drawing in the dirt. Photo/ Compassion International.

How is Compassion Philippines responding to the increased threat?
 
Compassion Philippines launched a child protection awareness campaign online immediately after the quarantine restrictions were implemented in March 2020. The campaign includes online reminders, seminars, and discussions with local experts such as Alex Mallillin of IJM and Adesty Dulawan, clinical supervisor of World Hope International.
 
During an online training on July 9, Adesty shared alarming statistics. She said 90 per cent of Filipino children aged 7-12 years old regularly use the internet and 40 per cent of them have chatted with strangers online. Of the group, 2.5 per cent of Filipino children have been streamed nudity online, and 80 per cent are at risk of sexual abuse, sexual extortion, or cyber-bullying. Several of Compassion’s church partners across the islands participated in the seminars aimed at protecting children.
 
From the online training, church partners have implemented local activities to educate church staff, workers, leaders, pastors, and parents on the prevention and detection of OSEC.
 
How does Compassion’s programme address the problem of OSEC?
 
Compassion’s child sponsorship programme addresses the main factor that drives OSEC—poverty. Adesty said, “Child victims mostly come from very poor families. Their parents have little income or transitory jobs. OSEC is just a result of poverty and hunger. The problem is with the system, not the child.” Compassion’s mission to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name is more real, relevant, and urgent in light of OSEC and its prevalence in the Philippines. “Our programmes and initiatives in Compassion are always mindful of protecting children,” said Mary Ann Manzano, child protection specialist for Compassion Philippines. “The dangers are real, and what we do to protect the children is real too.” "We advised our church partners to be vigilant in monitoring the children and youth to prevent abuse from happening," Mary Ann continued, "Church partners are instructed to report any suspected or alleged abuse to local authorities and the national office. "During the quarantine restrictions, Compassion's church partners have acted swiftly, providing online and modular lessons and activities to all children in the programme around the country, so that there is no place for online evil to enter their homes. Through the awareness seminars and the staff’s knowledge of each sponsored child, their vigilance will help protect precious childhoods.”
 
How can you help?
 
1. 
Sponsor a child: When a child is sponsored, the likelihood of them becoming exploited is very low. Why? Because when you sponsor a child their basic needs are met and the family is less likely to look at other, more dangerous options to keep their family fed and looked after.

2. Give to our Modern Slavery cause: Our partners around the globe work to prevent human trafficking through education in communities. They also help to support survivors once they have been trafficked and play a part in bringing perpetrators to justice.
 

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