A prominent lawyer who specializes in family law and an advocate for the rights of women and children has cited and praised Cebu and the Zonta Club of Cebu II for leading in the efforts of protecting Filipino children from online sexual abuse and trafficking.
“Cebu has the political will and NGOs such as the Zonta Club of Cebu II are involved in the fight against online sexual exploitation. Most of the conviction cases on online child trafficking and sexual exploitation come from here,” Atty. Katrina Legarda said in a webinar culminating Zonta’s 18 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women (VAW) on December 12 this year.
Legarda added that the capture of an American ‘sex offender’ in Ginatilan, Cebu last December 11 showed how serious and resolute Cebu is in this fight against child online sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Legarda went on to cite the Cebu’s Provincial Women’s Commission (PWC) as a “champion of child protection” as it coordinates overall programs among law enforcement, justice, the courts and other agencies, especially during surveillance and rescue operations.
Gaps in efforts on COP
Despite these leading protection efforts, there are still gaps in Child Online Protection (COP). In her webinar presentation entitled “The Perils of Technology: Easy Access and Target of Human Trafficking”, Legarda stressed that community-level involvement is deficient.
This lack of involvement and vigilance at the community level is due to various factors like a lack of awareness, hesitance to get involved as these activities are treated as family issues, inadequate number of experts trained and dedicated to pursue Online Sexual Abuse/Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) cases, and a shortfall in personnel, funds and specialized skills.
Red flags when OSEC is committed
According to Legarda, it is vital that the people in the communities must know how OSEC is committed and note the “red flags”. She went on that children are usually recruited by people they know such as their relatives, family members and neighbors. She advises local leaders to watch and check for these red flags that include the presence of “Padala” shops even in remote communities and the regular presence of the same people in the shops or at the area almost every day and normally they are senior citizens.
“You may find that money is sent to the same person, same address and the same barangay all the time but the sender is almost always different. Check out the barangays with the presence of huge satellite dishes and why such a large bill for the internet,” Legarda bared.
She also said that to check on the address or homes of possible OSEC perpetrators such as no visible means of livelihood, lots of children inside the house playing and lots of devices such as laptops, cellphones and other gadgets.
Legarda quoted the 2013 study by the End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism that OSEC is committed more often in children’s own houses while payments are usually facilitated via bank and money transfer services and traffickers provide children sex services for an international audience via online transmissions.
Legarda added that usually victims of OSEC and child sexual abuse and trafficking don’t even report these cases because it’s their only source of income; easy to commit, difficult to detect. Low-cost overhead and perpetrators almost always say that there is no damage done to the children, “no penile penetration.”
Cyber Child trafficking and violence situation
Based on the victims assisted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) that since 2015 there have been 16,250 victims of child trafficking in the country and 65 percent of them are females and 21 percent were children sold for as low as P500.
“With the number of victims, the conviction rate is very low with only 560 cases for trafficking and 99 cases of OSEC convicted from 2005 to the present,” Legarda lamented.
Legarda cited the 2015 Baseline Study on Violence Against Children (VAC), both boys and girls are almost 50-50 as victims of cyber violence, 50.4 percent for boys and 46.7 percent for girls or one in two children experienced cyber violence.
The survey also showed that children with boyfriends/girlfriends are more likely to experience cyberviolence than those who have none. Alcohol drinking and internet addiction among children increases the odds of cyber violence and if parents have less income or gamblers, there is a higher likelihood of children engaging in cyber violence.
Legarda concluded her presentation with some practical advice; that girls/women must go to school and finish college; limit internet usage among children or better still children must not be given cellphones, other gadgets or places that allow them to use the internet.
“Your children and grandchildren are very vulnerable to ICT-enabled sexual abuse, exploitation and cyber violence that may affect privacy infringement, alienation and or isolation and child online abuse and violence. Don’t give them smartphones and always supervise and monitor what they watch online,” Legarda added.