THE House committee on the welfare of children will investigate the growing cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) during the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID) pandemic, panel chairperson and Tingog Party-list Rep. Yedda Marie K. Romualdez said on Monday.
“There is an urgent need for the House of Representatives to exercise its oversight mandate to investigate the rising incidence of OSEC in the country, look into the quality of policy implementation, and review existing and related laws to keep up with the complexity of OSEC and the increasing levels of digital technology,” Romualdez, wife of House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, said in a privilege speech.
As head of the committee, Romualdez said she intends to launch an investigation in aid of legislation and invite representatives from the Executive branch to identify and address the gaps on the speedy prosecution of OSEC cases; to ensure full accountability and compliance of internet service providers and social media and other online platforms; to assess the capacity of enforcement agencies to respond to and handle OSEC cases; and to propose stronger social protection measures that will empower victims and witnesses to report cases of abuse and exploitation.
The lawmaker from Leyte also raised alarm on how the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the incidence of OSEC in the Philippines given the loss of sources of livelihood of many, and the surge of online activities of minors, among others.
However, Romualdez noted that even before the pandemic, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children based in the United States (US) reported in 2018 that at least 600,000 child sexual abuse materials from the Philippines were reported to have been shared and sold online.
This marks a 1,300 percent increase from the previous year.
“As of May 25, the Office of Cybercrime under the Department of Justice received 279,166 cyber tips from March to May 2020, compared to 76,561 cyber tips over the same period in 2019. That translates to an increase of 264.63%,” the lawmaker lamented.
“A study by the United Nations Children’s Fund showed that one in five Filipino children are vulnerable to OSEC, with boys found to be as vulnerable to sexual exploitation as girls,” Romualdez cited. “One in five children is one child too many.”
According to Romualdez, apart from cases where parents peddle their own children to online sexual predators, some sexual predators also make their way into chat rooms and video game sessions to lure and blackmail children to send sexually explicit photographs or videos or perform perverse sexual acts on livestream.
Children may also experience other forms of abuse, such as online sexual grooming and the creation, production, and distribution of child sexual abuse and exploitation materials by pedophiles and predators, she noted.
While “shame is what prevents these children from reporting these incidents,” Romualdez underscored that “what is more shameful is when adults – parents, guardians, teachers and people in government – seem to take lightly and stay silent about these deeply troubling acts of sexual exploitation.”
“Thus, the greater shame is on us! For our failure to protect the most vulnerable members of our community, for allowing poverty to be a convenient excuse for our inaction to counter the continuing spread of OSEC, and for not being able to raise awareness among parents and the need to educate children on the risks of online sexual exploitation,” she stressed.
Romualdez said that more than the need to remove the risks of harmful content, contact, and conduct online is the need to change online behavior “towards one that is fully cognizant of the dangers of the internet.”
“The true strength of our nation is seen in the smiles of children,” Romualdez said. “The well-being, integrity, and safety of our children is the most precious gift that we can give them.”