Sexual exploitation of children up by 260% amid lockdown-DOJ

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) said Monday that the number of reported online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines soared by 260 percent during the lockdown. 

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a non-profit corporation, recorded 279,166 reports from March 1 to May 24, 2020, according to DOJ. NCMEC operates the CyberTipline Report (CTR), which is a hotline for cases of online exploitation of children. 

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NCMEC said the number is higher by 264.63 percent or 202,605 incidents compared to the same period in 2019, which is only 76,561 reports.

The DOJ explained the increase could have been caused by the surge of internet users after more than 50 million people in the Philippines were locked down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

NCMEC reports include the following cases where either the offender or victim is in the Philippines:

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  • possession, manufacture, and distribution of child pornography
  • online enticement of children for sexual acts;
  • child sex trafficking;
  • sex tourism involving children;
  • extra-familial child sexual molestation;
  • unsolicited obscene material sent to a child; and
  • misleading words or digital images on the internet. 

Also read: PNP investigates ‘sex-for-pass’ scheme at checkpoints

Sexual exploitation of children

DOJ however, clarified that not all of 279,166 reports are “actual cases” of online sexual exploitation of children. It said some of it could be inaccurate reports, identical materials that went viral, and misleading digital images not involving any sexual activity. 

DOJ’s Office of Cybercrime will assess the reports before they are endorsed to the National Bureau of Investigation–Anti-Human Trafficking Division and the Philippine National Police–Women and Children Protection Center for further inquiry and action. 

From March 15 to May 21, the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center (PICACC) arrested 7 suspects and rescued 34 children. It also received 22 referrals.

The DOJ and police said Saturday that Facebook pages administrators that promote the sexual exploitation of children could be jailed for 17 years and 4 months. Those who would be found guilty would pay up to P1 million. 

“They know that such a legal obligation is automatically read into their franchises and permits to operate. And they realize, more than anyone, that without such technology, this trend of victimization of children who are the most vulnerable among us will remain unabated,” Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said in a statement.

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