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‘Cyber child exploitation’ a growing concern




World Vision expresses its concern as it is alarmed by students selling sensual photos online to support their education. / Photograph courtesy of World Vision

In the advent of online presence in the age of the internet amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic, new dangers also arise that seeks to exploit children who are underprivileged.

This, as child-focused agency World Vision raised concern about reports published by the Philippine Online Student Tambayan (POST) about students selling sensual photos and videos online using specific hashtags.

According to reports, students also held a “Christmas sale” of what appeared to be sexual exploitation materials encouraging buyers to “help” raise funds for their distance learning needs such as tuition, Internet connection and tech gadgets.

“Every child or learner deserves to be safe and protected from any form of sexual abuse or exploitation, even at this difficult time of the pandemic,” said World Vision National Director Rommel Fuerte.

“World Vision calls on relevant government agencies and key stakeholders to protect children from online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) by all possible means,” he added.

Amid the community quarantine, the Department of Justice (DoJ) Office of Cybercrime reported that OSEC reports tripled during March to May 2020, relative to the same period in 2019.

Based on World Vision’s Covid-19 rapid impact assessment report in the Philippines, the study also found that 92 percent of households surveyed said their livelihoods were disrupted, 61 percent of which are fully and severely affected by the pandemic.

Loss of income is forcing parents/caregivers to take drastic measures, as three percent of respondents said they will send their children to work (which could include high risk jobs).

World Vision also stressed the need for the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, led by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the DoJ respectively, to conduct thorough investigation of the reported cases, and to apprehend the perpetrators including the takedown of harmful social media accounts and online sites.

“While we are after the criminal offenders, we also need to ensure the provision of appropriate support to the children who have been lured by this rising trade involving minors,” said Jezreel Hannah Domingo, Child Protection manager of World Vision.

“Our educational system should also ensure that child protection committees in all schools are established and learners have access to information on cyber-safety including responsible use of social media and mechanisms to report incidents of abuse.”