Child protection specialist Dr. Sandra Hernandez presented a systematic literature review (SLR) on online child protection at Ako Para Sa Bata 2015: Cyberprotection of Children, in the simultaneous symposium titled “UNICEF Researches on Online Child Protection.” Her particular presentation was titled “Philippine-specific foreign journals and publications: magnitude, forms and drivers of child online exploitation and enabling environments for child online safety.”
Many webcam child sex tourism (WCST) instances are family-run operations, with the parents putting their own children in front of webcams and collecting payment from viewers. What starts as a family-run operation often becomes a neighborhood business, with neighbors and others in the barangay bringing their children to perform as well.
Given these trends, researchers and prosecutors have to become more creative in pursuing offenders and protecting children.
Hernandez mentioned “Becoming Sweetie,” a research project by Terre Des Hommes Netherlands. Researchers created a computer model of a ten-year-old Filipino girl named “Sweetie,” and “spent a combined total of 1,600 hours over the course of 10 weeks posing as prepubertal girls.”
“Over 20,000 predators from all over the world initiated contact, seeking webcam sex shows from the researchers. By combining bits of information supplied by the perpetrators themselves, Terre des Hommes managed to identify 1,000 individuals from 71 countries, demonstrating how widespread this phenomenon has already become over such a relatively short period of time.”
Terre Des Hommes released their findings in 2013.
Who are the victims?
Most victims of online child abuse are female, but cases of male victims are under-reported. Victims are usually between 1 to 5 years old, but some are as young as one month old.
Most perpetrators of online child abuse over 40 years old, male, and married. They are found all over the world, but some perpetrators are right here in the Philippines. Many limit themselves to online child abuse, and do not want to cross over to offline abuse.
There are many factors that may increase a child’s risk of becoming a victim of online child abuse. Family and household factors include direct family involvement, such as the parents putting their children in front of a webcam, and children of broken homes. There are many community factors involved too. There is often a lack of monitoring of children: where they go, whom they talk to. Adults are often the cause of children’s exposure to sexually explicit content, at Internet cafes or barangay halls. A major problem is that national telecommunications companies feel no obligation to monitor content, and social media sites do not have pro-active policies on child-related content.
Social and cultural norms are an important factor too. Adult males still insist on introducing porn to young boys. Young girls want to become friends with foreigners, hoping foreign men will fall in love with them, marry them and rescue them and their family from poverty.
Often, extreme poverty is the driving force behind online child abuse. Some parents would rather subject their children to WCST than to street prostitution.
Most of the data presented came from unpublished studies, and Hernandez recommends a comprehensive, nationwide survey so as to get a clear picture of the true state of the nation, online and offline. In the meantime, child online safety sessions are much needed, for children, parents and teachers.
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