“There is one dream that all Filipinos share: that our children may have a better life than we have had… there is one vision that is distinctly Filipino: the vision to make this country, our country, a nation for our children.” — Jose W. Diokno
More than half of Filipino youths regularly use the Internet and own devices with Internet accessibility. The expansion of access and convenience of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) provides important information and learning opportunities for children, but also poses a potential protection threat to children online.
New national research shows that nearly half of Filipino children experience violence on the Internet. The violence or threats take many forms including: cyber bullying and Internet harassment; exposure to sexually explicit content; online grooming and sexual solicitation; offline sexual abuse facilitated by the Internet and social media; child abuse material; and broadcasting of live sexual abuse of children (webcam child sex tourism or WCST). Exploitation through webcams is especially alarming, with recent estimates that tens of thousands of Filipino children are sexually abused via the WCST industry. The victims tend to be younger than those affected by other forms of sexual abuse.
During the lockdown imposed by the President since mid-March, the Philippine National Police reported that it has conducted two operations, one in Luzon and the other in Cebu, involving children sexually abused online. One of the suspects allegedly livestreamed the sexual abuse of her cousin to a foreign sex offender in exchange for money. She was charged for producing and distributing child sexual exploitation materials.
Online Sexual Exploitation of Children or OSEC is a collective term for various offenses; it is not specifically defined as a crime under a particular law. Rather, it refers to wide array of acts of abuse or exploitation committed against children in the online environment. It includes, among others, livestreaming, distribution, possession, transmission, pandering and grooming offenses. The Philippines has four special laws, in addition to the those provided by the Revised Penal Code, that punish OSEC in its various forms.
First, we have Republic Act (RA) 9775, the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009. It prohibits the production, offering, distribution and possession of “child pornography.”
Under the law, the elements of child pornography are as follows: (1) There is a written, visual, and/or audio material; (2) The content of the material involves a real or simulated explicit sexual activity; and (3) The one engaged in the sexual activity, whether a natural person, a graphical representation of a person, or a computer generated image of a person, is a child or is presented, depicted, or portrayed as a child. In short, any material that shows a child (natural, or an adult portrayed as a child, animated or computer generated) engaging in a real or simulated sexual activity is considered child pornography.
Sexual grooming of a child is criminalized and is defined as “the act of preparing a child, or someone who the offender believes to be a child, for sexual activity or a sexual relationship by communicating any form of child pornography. It includes online enticement or enticement through any other means.”
Second, Congress enacted RA 9208, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003, as expanded by RA 10364, wherein it punishes the act of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, adoption, providing, offering, maintaining or receipt of a child for the purpose of pornography.
Pornography is defined by the law as any representation through information technology or whatever means of a person engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual purposes. This includes WCST, or the use of webcams in broadcasting sexual abuse of children to paying customers. The minority of the victim qualifies the offense of trafficking in persons and carries a penalty of life imprisonment.
Third, under RA 10175, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, it increases the penalties of offenses in the Anti-Child Pornography Act when they are committed through a computer system.
Fourth, RA 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, more commonly known as the “Child Abuse Law” provides special protection to children, which include not only those below 18 years old, but also individuals who are unable to protect themselves from harm due to a physical or mental disability or condition. The law punishes the sexual abuse of a child in various forms, including child prostitution, child trafficking, other neglects of cruelty and abuse, obscene shows and employment of children beyond safe parameters.
An OSEC case may involve the commission of several other crimes under the Revised Penal Code, such as rape, acts of lasciviousness and obscene performances.
On top of the offense of child pornography, an accused in an OSEC case is liable for rape if the child is below 12 years old and the pornographic material involves a penetration of the mouth, anal orifice, or vagina of the victim. This, however, must be read along with the provisions of the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act. An act of lasciviousness may also be charged if the sexual material does not involve a penetration to a child’s vagina, anal orifice, or mouth. Distribution of indecent shows, or those that are contrary to public morals, is also punished.
The law enforcement agencies mandated to investigate OSEC and arrest the perpetrators are the Philippine National Police Anti-Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG). It investigates all cybercrimes and other crimes in which ICT is used. PNP-ACG also maintains Project AngelNet, an information campaign about online abuse. The Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Center (WCPD) likewise responds to crimes involving children. The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Cybercrime Division is tasked with investigating all cyber-related crimes and maintaining an Incident Response Team and Digital Forensic Section. Also, The NBI Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTRAD) conducts rescue operations for victims of child trafficking. For coordination between government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, the Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) was established to coordinate, monitor and oversee the implementation of the Anti-Human trafficking Law. There is also the Inter-agency Council Against Child Pornography (IACACP).
For international collaboration with our foreign counterparts, such as in cases where the perpetrator is abroad, the Department of Justice (DoJ)-Office of Cybercrime (OoC) is designated as the central authority in all matters relating to international mutual assistance and extradition for cybercrime cases and is tasked with monitoring and reviewing cybercrime and cyber-related cases being handled by the National Bureau of Investigation and the PNP. DoJ-OoC was provided with access to the Virtual Private Network of US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in April 2014. DoJ-OoC is notified when NCMEC receives a report that has a Philippine nexus through its CyberTipline. The Philippine Center on Transnational Crime houses INTERPOL Philippines and carries out investigations that have implications for the Philippines outside of its borders. The Philippines is also part of the #WePROTECT Global Alliance, an international movement dedicated to global and national action to end the sexual exploitation of children online.
If you come across any suspected case of online sexual exploitation of children, text ENDOSEC (space) (incident details) to 7444-64 for Smart network subscribers. You may also call the action line of the IACAT at 1343 for NCR or 02-1343 for outside NCR. The PNP WCPC can be reached at 0945-863225 or (032) 410-8483 for the Visayas, and 0917-180-6037 or 0928-604-6425 in Mindanao. The NBI-AHTRAD can be contacted through its hotline at (02) 8521-9208 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together let us be vigilant in protecting the future of our nation from the scourge of OSEC.
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