Human trafficking

YESTERDAY, July 30, was the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. We were reminded of the abuses, violence and exploitation happen everywhere. Alarmingly, Filipino children tend to become very much vulnerable to these vicious acts due to the prevailing socio-economic and cultural contexts.

While some indicators show the significant changes that have been made over the past decades in the country, data on child rights protection issues clearly illustrate the failure of the government in fulfilling its commitment to protect and uphold the rights of children as enshrined under the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Despite the so-called economic growth, children continue to face barriers to the full realization of their rights, affecting th  eir long term-development.

While the world battles against the deadly corona virus pandemic, we are also witnessing an increase in the number of children victimized by the abominable proliferation of Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (OSAEC). In fact, the Philippines has become the global epicenter of online sexual exploitation of children. UNICEF noted that one in every five Filipino children is vulnerable to online sexual exploitation while the Department of Justice released a report last May indicating a 264 percent increase in cases of online sexual exploitation of children.

Addressing OSAEC is particularly challenging especially in countries with remarkably high poverty incidence where many children are forced by circumstances to engage in illicit and risky trades in the hopes of earning money. Such economic misfortune of many families has become an advantage for sexual predators to abuse and exploit children. And we fear that more Filipino children might be put in this vulnerable situation as a result of widespread joblessness, increasing poverty and hunger incidence during the unabated coronavirus spread in the country.

We cannot fully underscore the harmful impact of the online sexual abuse and exploitation to children with the abuse being performed or facilitated by their own family members or neighbors whom they trust. OSAEC leaves children a lifelong scar. It robs them of their childhood and deprives them the access to opportunities that are essentials for their development. Worse, they may be chained to the vicious practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment.

OSAEC thrives and draws breath from government’s neglect, indifference and failure to resolve the hapless plight of marginalized and vulnerable children. Despite decades of persistent campaigns of victims and advocates, there’s still a need to establish and develop a comprehensive and coordinated national response to make the digital space and online platforms safe for children. The government must ensure that mechanisms are in place to address the current situation. Congress should exercise its oversight function to address the gaps in our existing laws. At the same time, flaws in our criminal justice system must be decisively resolved. Support programs must also be strengthened and provided for the children victims.

There should also be a particular emphasis on how to make children aware of the risks in using the internet and on how to educate them about their rights as well as their meaningful role in the society. More importantly, the government should address the social roots of OSAEC including poverty and social inequality.