Senator Imee Marcos has expressed alarm at the spike in cases of child sexual abuse online since lockdowns were imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Marcos has filed Senate Resolution 487 to investigate how such cases in March to May alone more than tripled to about 260,000 from a year earlier, based on reports from the Department of Justice and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
The Philippines has gained a reputation as the “global epicenter of the live-stream sex abuse trade” and the top global source of child pornography, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
The recent arrest in Pampanga of American pedophile Michael Kent Clapper, on a tip from the US embassy in Manila, is just one of many police operations conducted since the mid-March lockdown, with the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center rescuing 34 minors from Luzon to Mindanao who were involved in online pornography.
Marcos said telecommunications firms and internet service providers (ISPs) were falling short of their duty by law to report such cases and install technology that detect and block the transmission of pictorial and live child pornography being sold online.
“What preventive measures have our telcos and ISPs taken to block avenues of exploitation like online gaming, chat groups, phishing email and other unsolicited contact in social media? The government has relied more often on foreign authorities,” Marcos said.
“Europol, which is the European Union’s law enforcement agency, has already warned that sexual predators have also found their way to children via online learning applications,” Marcos added, just weeks before the country takes a big leap into online education.
The problem is likely to get worse across all social classes, Marcos warned, with the pandemic forcing poor families into deeper poverty and exposing children with access to digital tools to longer engagement in the private world of the internet.
“The pandemic has stripped the layers of protection against the sexual abuse of children, including the income security of parents and public interaction under the watchful eyes of teachers, doctors, law enforcers, and responsible members of the community,” Marcos said.
“Even the protection of various laws now appears thin and needs to be reinforced, so that our telcos and ISPs take their responsibilities more seriously,” Marcos added.
With more children staying indoors during the pandemic, Marcos feared that cases of child sexual abuse may increase further, citing research from the International Justice Mission that 62% of perpetrators were known to the victim, including parents, relatives, family friends, and neighbors.
Filipinos are particularly vulnerable because of a culture of silence specially about sexual abuse, on top of the availability of more affordable smart phones and internet data, as well as digital cash transfers that make it hard to track down child pornography sold online, Marcos added.