Despite the decreasing trend of the number of minors involved in the commercial sex trade in the country, an international NGO still considers online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) a global “epidemic “issue.
International Mission Organization, in their OSEC messaging to the Negros Occidental tri-media practitioners and public information officers in Bacolod City Saturday revealed that a decline of 79 percent in the children involved in commercial sex trade has been recorded in the past four years.
However, IJM-Philippines Director of Communications, Mobilization and Advocacy Evelyn Pingul said the OSEC issue is still alarming as it involves children, with about 32 percent rescued from entrapment operations below 12 years old.
“OSEC is epidemic in a global scale,” Pingul said in a phone interview Saturday. “The Philippines is becoming a hotspot of OSEC as there are still individuals who ask to do this act of exploitation,” she also said.
OSEC involves internet-aided prostitution of children and child pornography through computer webcams or social media software and applications.
Pingul said that with the increasing trend, they want OSEC to be a national concern in the Philippines for the government to act on it and support the fight against it.
In the website of US States Department (www.state.gov), OSEC begins when an offender gains access to a potential child victim and, through psychological manipulation and coercion inthe internet with a paying client who often specifically requests a child.
Perpetrators can pay to direct the sexual abuse of children from anywhere in the world while the abuse takes place in private homes, Internet cafes, or “cyber dens” in, or near the child's community, it added.
Catherine Noveda, IJM Community Mobilization Manager, also said that OSEC is a multi-billion dollar industry. Their statistics show that there are about 100,000 commercial websites offering pornographic images of children and its prevalence in the Philippines were also increasing.
The US Department of State-Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, also said that in nations like the Philippines, OSEC has been a disturbing issue as new technologies are easing OSEC, including the live streaming of sexual abuse of children using web cameras or cellphones.
“Children have been reported to be victims of this crime in Colombia, India, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States. Many countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands, the Philippines, and the United States, have prosecuted perpetrators—both paying clients and offenders who facilitate the exploitation of the child,” it added.
In the country, IJM statistics also said that there are about 2,000 cyber tip reports received every month and it is continuously increasing.
POLICE FORCE NEEDED
One of their recommendations is to add more police officers assigned under the Women and Children Protection Center of the Philippine National Police to increase law enforcement activities against OSEC, Pingul said.
She said there is a big gap in the number of police officers in WCPC. In Luzon alone, there are only 91, but the required number is at 276, she added.
In Bacolod, there have already been three successful entrapment operations to apprehend OSEC perpetrators in the city since last year and two of these cases have already been filed in court.
Senior Police Officer 4 ArlynTorrendon, Bacolod Women and Children Protection Desk head, also said during the discussion that as much as they want to apprehend perpetrators or illegal activities related to OSEC, there is no local police who is expert in detecting cybercrimes like this.
Bacolod City Police Office public information officer, Senior Insp. Armilyn Vargas, also admitted this lack of expertise in detecting cybercrimes. In an interview during the seminar, she said that they depend on theVisayas Field Unit in Cebu to verify OSEC activities allegedly reported in Bacolod.
Pingul also said that there are only six bodies in WCPC Visayas Field Unit addressing the issue and more personnel should be added to increase enforcement.
“If they (public) will see perpetrators arrested and convicted on doing OSEC, then the people will be scared and fear the law,” she said, adding “As some think that this is not a crime as itdoes not involve physical touching of victims… that is not true as perpetrators are directing abuse to children.”
Pingul said they are now connecting with their partners inCongress and Senate to lobby for the increase of the number of WCPC personnel in the country.
‘ALL ARE INVOLVED'
IJM already involved in about 76 OSEC operations in the country in the past six years and rescued 268 children, including 101 in 2017.
Pingul also urged the help of policy makers in the country to elevate WCPC into a group from being a center to better fulfill the mandate of child trafficking in the Philippines.
“We are working with local law enforcement personnel as we cannot do it alone,” Pingul said, adding that theyprovide social workers and lawyers during operations to help these children and look into legal aspects to get justice.
Also, Vargas has also urged the public's help to help eradicate OSEC activities in Bacolod.
“OSEC is a phenomenon and it will not stop by making a one-step solution. We need to do our share to raise awareness about it,” Vargas said.
She said that they arealso eyeing to add OSEC topics in their grassroots forum in the barangays or local stations, where most of their discussions only involves anti-criminality.
FOCUS ON 4Ps
Vargas said they have been talking to many individuals, especially those who are PantawidPamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries on how to take care of their child on topics like this to ensure that the parents are reminded not to abuse their children.
Pingul have also urged the participation of the media to tell more stories about OSEC issues to increase public awareness and help address crimes like this.
“The people in the community, if they know any OSEC activities going on in their neighborhood, should report it immediately to the police or the Department of Social Welfare and Development for us to refer it to agencies for apprehensions,” Vargas said.
She also reminded the parents notto involve their children in activities like this as it will affect their future and their mental health, and could cause depression leading to suicide.
“If we don't want to make our child's situation worse, we should not barter or trade them through exploitation,” Vargas said. * MLG
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