The Philippines Is Number One in the World... in Child Sex Exploitation
The Philippines is a global hotspot for child sex exploitation, and instead of containing and putting a stop to it, the numbers seem to be growing.
A study released on Thursday, May 21 found the estimated prevalence rate of internet-based child sexual exploitation in the Philippines more than tripled—from 43 out of every 10,000 Internet Protocol (IP) addresses used for child sexual exploitation in 2014 to 149 out of every 10,000 in 2017.
Data from participating law enforcement agencies globally also found that the Philippines received more than eight times as many referrals for online sex exploitation of children (OSEC) as any other country during the 2010-2017 baseline period.
The study was led by the International Justice Mission, an international NGO focused on human rights, law and law enforcement, and in partnership with the Philippine government, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), and a variety of stakeholders, under the U.S. - Philippines Child Protection Compact (CPC) Partnership between the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the government of the Philippines.
Child sex exploitation figures
The study defines OSEC as “the production, for the purpose of online publication or transmission, of visual depictions (e.g. photos, videos, live streaming) of the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor for a third party who is not in the physical presence of the victim, in exchange for compensation.”
According to the IJM news release, the study examined 90 OSEC cases investigated between 2011 and 2017, involving 381 victims. Among the 43 victims for whom the exact length of abuse was known, the average length of abuse was two years, ranging in length from two months to four years.
The median age of victims was 11 years old, with the youngest less than a year old. Another unsettling finding of the study is that 41 percent of victim abuse was facilitated by biological parents and 42 percent by other relatives.
Similar to the upward trend of IP addresses used for child sex exploitation, data from the NCMEC’s CyberTipline showed that the estimated number of IP addresses used for internet-based child sexual exploitation in the Philippines rose 250 percent, from 23,333 in 2014 to 81,723 in 2017.
At least one limitation of the groundbreaking study, the IJM admits, is that it fails to account for the prevalence of OSEC due to inconsistencies in the quality of reporting by electronic service providers (ESPs) and because ESPs are not currently detecting livestreamed abuse. This means instances of livestreamed child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) remain unreported.
“The tech industry should prioritize detection of all child sexual exploitation materials—especially newly created CSEM and live-streaming—because of the gravity of harm that repeated sexual exploitation causes victims,” said IJM Philippines Director Samson Inocencio Jr. “There are children who need rescue now, but rescue starts with timely detection and robust reporting.”
The case of "Vilma"
Still, the extent of the child exploitation issue in the problem has all but reached crisis levels and is clearly a global concern. The IJM study highlighted the case of Vilma (not her real name), who was found to be providing recorded videos, photos, and live-streamed abuse of her own children to online clients from the U.S., Australia and Germany. Vilma, in turn, received payments via money transfer agencies.
According to IJM, in September 2016, the Philippine National Police arrested Vilma and rescued four victims—all of whom were Vilma’s own children. Her arrest and conviction resulted in the consequent arrets and conviction of her clients in Australia and Germany, while investigation of other offenders is still ongoing.
"Vilma herself was convicted and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in 2018," the study said. "The four survivors received therapy and other services in the care of Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development and are now living with a member of their extended family in a formal kinship care foster family program."
“The results of the study show that OSEC is a growing and heinous crime,” the IJM news release quoted Department of Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, who is also in charge of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking. “We need to act as a global community—ending impunity in both source countries like the Philippines and demand countries. The Philippine government is committed to sustaining our collaboration with international law enforcement agencies in combatting this threat against our children.”
According to the IJM, the organization has supported the Philippines in responding to 171 cases of OSEC, resulting in 571 victims rescued, 229 suspects charged, and 76 being convicted from 2011 through the end of 2019.