#APSB2015: (2/2) How do we fight online child abuse?

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This is Part 2 of a two-part feature. Read Part 1 here.

Online child abuse crosses borders and leaves no visible scars. How can one combat an invisible threat?

That was the focus of a panel discussion at Ako Para Sa Bata 2015: Cyberprotection of Children. Dr. Emma Llanto moderated the session, titled “Efforts to Fight Online Child Abuse.”

The panel included Leah Galgo, Department of Education Child Protection Officer; Dolores Alforte, Director of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children (ECPAT); Ransom Avilla, Attaché for the Department of Homeland Security and Homeland Security Investigations in Manila; and Alwin De Leon, Country Manager of the Terre Des Hommes Netherlands-Philippine Country Office.

Child protection in the Philippines

Galgo talked about the DepEd efforts to protect Filipino children, identifying legislation specifically enacted to do so. She talked about child protection committees in barangays and schools all over the country. Such committees should involve all stakeholders in a community, and implement procedures for handling and reporting bullying.

Llanto commented that only a little of 30% of schools nationwide have complied with adopting these guidelines, prompting Galgo to ask for the help of the conference participants. “No violence against children is justifiable. All VAC can be prevented. DepEd cannot do this alone. It takes a community to raise a child. The community should shoulder the responsibility, and we have over 46,000 schools all over the country. Give us a hand. We cannot do this on our own.”

International efforts

Following Galgo, Alforte cited ECPAT’s efforts to end child pornography.

EPCAT’s projects focus on advocacy and prevention, education, and awareness raising. One of their projects is #StopChildPornPH, where they promote simple ways to protect children against online sexual abuse, inviting children and young people to be advocates for change.

One of ECPAT’s strengths is collaboration with partners in other countries, as well as cooperation with prosecutors and investigators. Together, they work to develop guidelines on compensation and penalties. One of the challenges they face is the fact that some LGUs don’t agree with the idea of victim compensation, because it might encourage some to actually participate in child exploitation.

Alforte shared, “We work not only on trafficking. In the Philippines, we collaborate with partners, law enforcement, training. We focus on healing and recovery as a community-based program, for victims. It’s hard to identify the victims in the community. The crime happens online, so there are no physical signs. So you need to educate people about red flags, about the impact on the children and the families, and you need to look at the psychosocial impact. Poverty will always be a reason for parents to sell their children. We have limited shelters, limited resources. So we need to work on the community level. We work based on reports from the community.”

Warnings, pleas for aid

Final messages from the panelists included grim views of the future, and emphasis on problems that remain unaddressed.

Avilla warned of escalation. “It’s just the beginning. When they watch on the webcam, eventually they want to come here and have sex with that child. As Internet speeds increase here, this crime will only spread.”

Alforte reminded conference participants that the risk for children is both online and offline. “There are many children who are not connected, who are on the streets,” he explained. He said that these children may also become victims of online child abuse, just as those exploited online may eventually become involved in street prostitution.

But with many agencies, both international and local, working to protect children online and in the real world, perhaps VAC can be curbed after all.

This is Part 2 of a two-part feature. Read Part 1 here.

Learn more about APSB2015 on its website and Facebook page. For details on the topics discussed in the conference, check out this program.

Check out photos from the event on Facebook and live social media coverage on Twitter!

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