One in Five Older Children in the Philippines Suffers Online Sexual Abuse, Study Finds | Philippines
According to research, one in five children between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced serious cases of online sexual abuse while using the internet in the Philippines in 2020.
The study adds to concerns that the pandemic has increased the vulnerability of children in the country, which was already considered a global center for such abuse.
Researchers who surveyed 950 children found that a fifth of those using the internet had experienced online sexual abuse in the past year, such as being blackmailed or coerced with money to engage in sexual activities, or sharing intimate images without their consent. The survey was conducted between January and April 2021.
If the results are population-scaled, it could mean that 2 million children have been victims of such abuse in one year, according to the study, which was funded by the Global Partnership to End Poverty. violence against children and produced by Unicef, Interpol and Ecpat International. , a network of civil society organizations focused on combating the sexual exploitation of children.
Marie Michelle Quezon, head of child protection at Unicef, said the scale of the problem was already very large and was likely to get worse. “We’re going to move on to [abuse being] endemic if we don’t act on it, because as we all know, it’s a crime facilitated by technology, and technology only advances.
Among children who experienced online sexual abuse on social media, Facebook or Facebook Messenger were by far the most common platforms where this occurred, accounting for over 90% of cases. The children also cited TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. Very few reported the abuses to the authorities.
In the Philippines, children faced some of the toughest Covid restrictions in the world and were officially banned from public spaces such as malls and parks. The rules were relaxed last year, but children are still slowly returning to in-person lessons.
“Even before the pandemic, there were already many incidents of online sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines, and this has been exacerbated,” Quezon said.
In some cases reported in the media, children have sold intimate images in order to pay for devices so they can access online learning at home, Quezon said. “Sometimes they just sell their picture for 150 pesos [about £2.20],” she added. Parents have also faced enormous financial pressures due to the pandemic, increasing the risk that they may facilitate abuse in exchange for money, she said.
According to the study, the abuse was most often committed by people unknown to the child.
Most cases of online child sexual exploitation investigated by authorities were first reported by foreign law enforcement agencies and NGOs. However, this may reflect differences in how proactive countries are, rather than indicating that offenders are predominantly foreign nationals, the study found.
Quezon said greater investment was needed in services designed to combat such crimes in the Philippines, more training to ensure reported cases are handled sensitively, as well as awareness-raising work.