Two studies conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund related to child online protection have found that the coronavirus disease 2019 is worsening the incidence of online sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines.
The Philippine Kids Online Survey and the National Study on Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children reveal that 90 percent of Filipino children can access the internet whenever they want or need to, and 59 percent connect to the internet without supervision. It also revealed that two in 10 children are vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and abuse.
“Children are increasingly becoming victims of circumstances that are harmful to their development and well-being. This must stop,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.
As children stay at home due to quarantine restrictions, UNICEF said they are at increased risk of online sex trafficking and exploitation. Even before COVID-19, the Philippines has already been considered as a source of child pornography which is an unfortunate source of income for many living in the margins of society.
UNICEF is continuously working to combat online sex abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) and one such initiative is the implementation of SaferKidsPH, a six year program that aims to reduce its prevalence by strengthening government child protection systems.
These interventions will only be effective if society comes together to protect children. Parents and guardians have to express interest in their kids’ day-to-day lives, get to know their online and offline friends, and carefully choose helpers and caregivers for their children. They should adapt to the digital age to better guide their kids in using gadgets and online platforms. Those who witness online sexual abuse of children should report immediately to the authorities or child support organizations.
Our kids may seem safe because they are home all the time but parents and guardians cannot just let them be, especially when they have unbridled access to the internet. Watchful parenting is still as necessary now as it was when we were outside more.
The fight against online sexual abuse and exploitation is everybody’s fight. We all have to pitch in to ensure every child’s right to survive and thrive in a safe and secure environment, whether online or offline.*