A PROMINENT lawyer who specializes in family law and advocates for the rights of women and children praised Cebu and the Zonta Club of Cebu 2 for leading in the efforts of protecting Filipino children from online sexual abuse and trafficking.
“Cebu has the political will and NGOs (nongovernment organizations) such as the Zonta Club of Cebu 2 are involved in the fight against online sexual exploitation. Most of the conviction cases on online child trafficking and sexual exploitation come from here,” Katrina Legarda said in a webinar culminating Zonta’s 18 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women on Dec. 12, 2020.
Legarda further said the capture of an American “sex offender” in Ginatilan town, Cebu last Dec.11 showed how serious and resolute Cebu is in the fight against child online sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Legarda went on to cite the Cebu Provincial Women’s Commission (PWC) as a “champion of child protection” as it coordinates overall programs among law enforcement, justice, the courts and other agencies, especially during surveillance and rescue operations.
Gaps in efforts
Despite these leading protection efforts, there are still gaps in Child Online Protection (COP), Legarda said.
In her webinar presentation entitled “The Perils of Technology: Easy Access and Target of Human Trafficking,” Legarda stressed that community-level involvement is deficient.
This lack of involvement and vigilance at the community level is due to various factors like a lack of awareness, hesitance to get involved as these activities are treated as family issues, inadequate number of experts trained and dedicated to pursue Online Sexual Abuse/Exploitation of Children (Osaec) cases and a shortfall in personnel, funds and specialized skills.
According to Legarda, it is vital that people in communities must know how Osec is committed and note the “red flags.” She said children are usually recruited by people they know such as their relatives, family members and neighbors. Local leaders, she said, must watch and check for these red flags that include the presence of “Padala (money transfer)” shops even in remote communities and the regular presence of the same people in the shops or at the area almost every day and normally they are senior citizens.
“You may find that money is sent to the same person, same address and the same barangay all the time but the sender is almost always different. Check out the barangays with the presence of huge satellite dishes and why such a large bill for the internet,” Legarda said.
The lawyer further said to check on the addresses or homes of possible Osec perpetrators, who have no visible means of livelihood but have lots of children inside their houses playing and several devices such as laptops, smartphones and other gadgets.
Legarda quoted the 2013 study by the End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism that Osec is committed more often in children’s own houses while payments are usually facilitated via bank and money transfer services and traffickers provide children sex services for an international audience via online transmissions.
The victims of Osec, child sexual abuse and trafficking do not usually report their situation because they have no other source of income.
Illicit shows online are easy to commit and entail low operational cost, but difficult to detect. Perpetrators almost always say that there is no damage done to the children as there is no “penetration.”
Cyber child trafficking
Since 2015, there have been 16,250 victims of child trafficking in the country, according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Of the victims, 65 percent are females and 21 percent are children sold for as low as P500 per transaction.
“With the number of victims, the conviction rate is very low with only 560 cases for trafficking and 99 cases of Osec convicted from 2005 to the present,” Legarda said.
Legarda cited the 2015 Baseline Study on Violence Against Children (VAC), which states that both boys and girls are almost 50-50 as victims of cyber violence — 50.4 percent for boys and 46.7 percent for girls, or one in two children experienced cyber violence.
The survey also showed that children with boyfriends/girlfriends are more likely to experience cyber violence than those who have none. Alcohol drinking and internet addiction among children increase the odds of cyber violence. If parents have less income or are gamblers, there is a higher likelihood of children engaging in cyber violence.
Legarda concluded her presentation with some practical advice — girls/women must go to school and finish college; limit internet usage among children or better still children must not be given cell phones, other gadgets or places that allow them to use the internet.
“Your children and grandchildren are very vulnerable to ICT-enabled sexual abuse, exploitation and cyber violence that may affect privacy infringement, alienation and or isolation and child online abuse and violence. Don’t give them smartphones and always supervise and monitor what they watch online,”