The House of Representatives on Wednesday started looking at the ways to stop the online sexual exploitation of children in the wake of the spike in the reported exploitation incidence since 2018.
Party-list Rep. Yedda Romualdez of the Tingog party-list group, chairperson of the Committee on the Welfare of Children, expressed alarm over what she said was the silent pandemic preying on “the most vulnerable and helpless in our community—our children.”
Comparing the online sexual exploitation of children to the Coronavirus Disease 2019 pandemic, Romualdez said in her opening remarks: “It is a plague no less harmful, a pandemic no less vicious—the rising threat of online sexual exploitation of children.”
However, she said, even before the outbreak of the Coronavirus 2019 pandemic, there had been a sharp increase in the number of online child sexual exploitation.
In 2018 alone, Romualdez said, the Department of Justice’s Office of Cybercrime reported at least 600,000 child sexual abuse materials from the Philippines, marking a 1,300 percent increase from the previous year.
Romualdez’s committee conducted a virtual meeting Wednesday in response to House Resolution 1118 filed before her committee that calls for an “investigation into the alarming situation of online exploitation of children in the Philippines.”
Romualdez’s concern was echoed by Assistant Majority Leader and Rizal Rep. Fidel Nograles as he renewed his appeal to Congress to pass a bill that would strengthen the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.
Nograles, vice chair of the House committee on justice, said internet service providers “can only do so much” as a conflicting provision in the law prevented them from taking more steps to curb child pornography.
Nograles authored House Bill 7633 or the Anti-Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Act of 2020.
Nograles filed his bill that would amend Section 9 of RA 9775 as the Department of Justice reported that cases of child pornography had exponentially increased.
Using data from the U.S.-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the DOJ noted that there were 279,166 cases of online child sex abuse in the Philippines from March 1 to May 24, 2020, compared with 76,561 cases during the same period in 2019. This represented a 264.63 percent increase in cases, or more than 202,605 incidents.
Romualdez blamed “increased access to the Internet and technology aggravated by the lack of built-in safeguards and security mechanisms, the prevailing norms that reinforce secrecy or continued abuse, as well as the increasing incidence of sexual trafficking in the country.”
“The situation is made worse with the lack of parental or guardian supervision, the dearth of resources to investigate and prosecute perpetrators or rescue and rehabilitate victims, the long periods of home confinement due to community quarantine restrictions, as well as the pandemic-induced large scale loss of jobs.”
In addition, Romualdez blamed poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic sayings desperate to find ways to provide for the needs of their family, the grim situation had sadly culminated in the online sexual exploitation of Filipino children.
However, Romualdez wife of House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, added: “This issue requires a multi-sectoral approach, requiring wider community partnerships to bridge existing gaps in our child protection laws so that we are able to not only nip online sexual exploitation of children in the bud, but more importantly allow our children to grow in the safe environment that they deserve.”