The Philippines is the leading country in online child sexual exploitation, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla admitted Thursday.
“We’re No. 1 in the world,” Remulla said when asked about the status of online sexual exploitation in the country.
“This should be gone. The Marcos administration is making efforts to stop the Philippines’ status on being the leading country in child sexual exploitation,” the Justice chief added.
Remulla made the admission after meeting with Mama Fatima Singhateh, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, who paid him a courtesy call.
Remulla said he gave Singhateh “an official letter” to tell her what the Philippines was doing to combat child sexual exploitation.
“Actually, we’ve declared war on this. It’s the first thing we did since the inception of the Marcos regime,” Remulla said, referring to the government’s drive against child sexual exploitation.
Singhateh on Thursday revealed that the Philippines remained a source and place for child trafficking, sale, sexual abuse, and forced marriage and labor, among others.
In a news conference, Singhateh presented the preliminary findings of her 11-day visit to the Philippines.
According to her, there was a lack of explicit legal provisions in the Constitution to penalize the exploitation of children for travel and tourism.
“The Philippines remains a source and destination country for child trafficking, sale, sexual abuse, and forced marriage… and forced labor,” Singhateh said.
“There’s a lack of all limited information on the scale of incidents of child trafficking victims and how victims are exploited,” she added.
Singhateh said there might be an under-reporting of child victims of sale and sexual exploitation in the country as the definition and distinction between these terms are “inadequate.”
The UN rapporteur recommended a distinction in the law between the sale of children and child trafficking.
Singhateh also pointed out that child marriages still happened in some indigenous and ethnic communities due to their culture and social exclusion, and other reasons.
“I look forward to more information on how the new Act will be implemented and enforced, and what measures will be put in place by the government to address the many reasons why child marriage is prevalent,” Singhateh said.
She was referring to the Republic Act 11596 or An Act Prohibiting the Practice of Child Marriage and Imposing Penalties for Violations Thereof, signed by former President Rodrigo Duterte in 2021.
Recalling her visits to several child homes and shelters and crisis intervention centers in the country, Singhateh emphasized the need for more support on financial and human resource aspects to address the needs of the children in these institutions.
“I’ll be recommending the establishment of a children’s home exclusively dedicated to providing an accommodating and caring for all child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, where all the services are provided for the children in the same place under one roof,” she said.
Besides, Singhateh noted the country’s need for a centralized data system that would collect the sexual abuse data in the country’s age, gender, ethnicity, and disability, as well as the number of cases reported and the convicted cases.
She also raised concerns about the lack of specially trained prosecutors in the justice system to handle cases of child abuse. She then recommended the establishment of a child protection unit within the prosecution department or the appointment of a child protection focal point to deal with these cases.
The rapporteur also suggested the setting up of child-specific courts in the country to particularly focus on handling their cases, and the strict application of the one-day hearing on child sexual abuse and exploitation.