THE chairperson of the House committee on welfare of children on Wednesday sought a wider community partnership to address the growing cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) during the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID) pandemic as Congress works on possible amendments to the Anti-Pornography Law and other existing related laws.
During the initial investigation of the committee on OSEC cases, Tingog party-list Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez, panel chairperson, underscored the importance of all sectors’ more active participation to end the problem.
“My dear colleagues, the gross prevalence of OSEC in our society today is simply undeniable. But this issue requires a multi-sectoral approach, requiring wider community partnership to bridge existing gaps in our child protection laws so that we are able to not only nip OSEC in the bud, but more importantly allow our children to grow in the safe environment that they deserve,” Romualdez told panel members and resource persons.
“Seeing all of us working together, I am very hopeful and confident that the brighter future awaits every Filipino child,” said Romualdez who filed House Resolution (HR) 1118 with others lawmakers to investigate OSEC cases.
The invited various stakeholders led by Ms. Selena Fortich of Plan International, Atty. Michelle Munoz of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Toni Flores of Child Rights Network, Assistant State Prosecutor Atty. Yvette Coronel of the Department of Justice / Inter Agency Council Against Trafficking, Atty. Kristine Padilla of the Inter Agency Council Against Child Pornography, Atty. Carla Villadolid of the Council for the Welfare of Children, and Department of Social Welfare and Development Director Maricel Deloria expressed strong support to the inquiry to possibly amend the Anti-Pornography Law and other related laws to fight OSEC.
Romualdez said an investigation in aid of legislation is intended to identify and address the gaps on the speedy prosecution of OSEC cases; to ensure full accountability and compliance of internet service providers and social media and other online platforms; to assess the capacity of enforcement agencies to respond to and handle OSEC cases; and to propose stronger social protection measures that will empower victims and witnesses to report cases of abuse and exploitation.
The lawmaker from Leyte also raised alarm at how the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened OSEC in the Philippines given the loss of sources of livelihood of many, and the surge of online activities of minors, among others.
Romualdez noted that even before the pandemic, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children based in the United States (US) reported in 2018 that at least 600,000 child sexual abuse materials from the Philippines were reported to have been shared and sold online or 1,300 percent increase from the previous year.
“As the coronavirus disease continues to threaten the health and well-being of Filipinos, a silent pandemic has begun to plague the most vulnerable and helpless in our community – our children. It is a plague no less harmful, a pandemic no less vicious – the rising threat of online sexual exploitation of children. In 2018 alone, the Department of Justice- Office of Cybercrime (DOJ-OCC) reported at least 600,000 child sexual abuse materials from the Philippines, marking a 1,300% increase from the previous year,” Romualdez said.
“Increased access to the internet and technology aggravated by the lack of built-in safeguards and security mechanisms, prevailing norms that reinforce secrecy or continued abuse, as well as the increasing incidence of sexual trafficking in the country. The situation is made worse with the lack of parental or guardian supervision, the dearth of resources to investigate and prosecute perpetrators, or rescue and rehabilitate victims, the long periods of home confinement due to community quarantine restrictions, as well as the pandemic-induced large scale loss of jobs,” Romualdez stressed.
“Desperate to find way to provide for the needs of their family, this grim situation has sadly culminated in the online sexual exploitation of Filipino children. We can no longer keep our eyes blind, and our ears deaf to the growing threat of online sexual exploitation of children,” Romualdez pointed out.