The Philippine government needs to efficiently put more attention on matters of sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism as well as transactional sex, as the country has to step up and fill the gaps its response against sexual exploitation of children.
This was the observation of a UN special rapporteur on child exploitation to the country’s inadequate response addressing child exploitation particularly the rampant online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC).
During the media briefing on Thursday, December 8, UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children Mama Fatima Singhateh said there remain gaps in many forms of sexual abuse and exploitation of children, among these are destination child trafficking or sex tourism, forced marriage, labor and sexual exploitation and illegal adoption.
“While there has been a general focus on online sexual exploitation and general trafficking in persons, attention has not been adequate on matters of sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism as well as sexual exploitation of children through transactional sex,” the UN official said.
“Law enforcement and child protection professionals should also increase attention to abuses that are not associated with (information and communications technology),” she added.
While the country several laws addressing child sexual abuse and exploitation, including the recently signed anti-OSAEC bill, she noted that the country still lacks significant developments in implementing them.
“Laws are very good but measures must also be put in place and it’s one thing to have very well drafted laws and another to actually implement it and make sure that implementation trickles down to the grassroots level because many times we’ve seen in other countries where laws have been drafted but the implementation is weak,” she said.
During Singhateh’s 10-day visit to the country, one of her biggest concerns she flagged is how local government and politics could negatively impact child protection structures at the grassroots level due to regular changes in personnel.
She pointed out the lack of trained officials on child protection at the barangay level was also concerning, explaining that a majority of the reported cases of abuse and exploitation were done through tip-offs from other law enforcement agencies in other countries and little surveillance and patrols were being done in communities where these crimes thrive.
On Thursday, during her courtesy call to Department of Justice (DOJ), Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, the justice secretary bared to her that the administration was seeking to fast-track the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the National Sim Card Registration Act in order to curb the rampant OSAEC in the country.
Remulla told reporters that “We need to speed up the IRR of the Sim Card Registration (Act) so that immediately, it becomes executory and so we can identify the perpetrators”.
“Because while (we don’t have an IRR), until now perpetrators are still using prepaid data plans of telcos in doing OSEC and of course in pimping out children,” he added.
The Anti-Money Laundering Council has required remittance centers to submit suspicious transaction reports based on a study containing a “typology” of OSEC-related transactions. It revealed that one way the crime is being tracked is through remittance centers. The financial service providers that allowed the country’s army of overseas Filipino workers to easily send money to their relatives back home have also been used by foreigners abusing Filipino children online to pay the facilitators.
However, the justice secretary said the government also needs to work out its “restrictive” money laundering mechanisms “Payment solutions are one of the problems. We recall that if crimes like this happen in provinces, perpetrators use payment solutions. They receive one dollar to 10 dollars, and these amounts are not immediately flagged because of limitations of money laundering. It’s difficult to catch them,” he added.
Based on data from the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC),.the Philippines has been tagged as the global epicenter of livestream sexual trafficking of children,
During the pandemic, cases surged as many Filipinos lost their jobs. Tech companies reported that more than 1.29 million images and videos of child abuse materials came from the Philippines in 2020, more than triple the number in 2019 or before the pandemic.
From March 1 to May 24, 2020, in the early weeks of the lockdown the DOJ had reported 202,605 cases of OSAEC or a whopping 265% increase compared with the same period the previous year.
Based on latest available data, the DOJ Office of Cybrecrime said the number of cyber tipline reports from the NCMEC on OSAEC last year was more than three million; while from January to June this year, there were over one million.
Meanwhile, the PICACC said it has conducted only about 160 operations against OSAEC from 2019 to 2021, where there were 99 victims arrested and 529 children rescued.
Since 2017, the government has achieved 213 convictions against perpetrators.
Some of the government’s response to OSAEC are centered on detection and law enforcement, with great focus being given to monitoring transactions between foreigners and Filipinos selling children for sex or livestream abuse, as well as in tracing perpetrators who make use of the internet being provided by telecommunications companies.