UNICEF: Pandemic ‘worsening’ child online sexual abuse, exploitation in PH
MANILA, Philippines — Incidence of child online sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines is “worsening” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an official of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said that as children stay at home due to quarantine restrictions, they are at risk of falling victim to online sex trafficking and exploitation, which are circumstances that are “harmful to their development and well-being.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening the incidence of online sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines,” Dendevnorov said in a statement on Wednesday. “Children are increasingly becoming victims of circumstances that are harmful to their development and well-being. This must stop.”
The UNICEF official also said they have conducted two studies related to child online protection, the Philippine Kids Online Survey and the National Study on Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children.
In both studies, according to Dendevnorov, it showed that 90 percent of Filipino kids can access the internet whenever they want and that 59 percent of them can connect to the internet without the supervision of their parents or guardians.
The studies also revealed that two in 10 Filipino kids are vulnerable to be victims of child online sexual exploitation and abuse, Dendevnorov added.
Citing information from the Philippine National Police, the UNICEF official said the Philippines is “the number one source of child pornography and a source of income for many who are living in the margins of society.”
“Children who have been sexually abused online exhibit behaviors that cause them to socially isolate themselves. The child has no interest in school and friends. Having low self-esteem, traumas, and nightmares are also signs to consider. There may also be unexplained bleeding of the genital areas and bruises,” Dendevnorov said.
He then warned that if this issue is left “[u]naddressed, these symptoms can lead to mental health problems, suicide, alcohol abuse, and dependency on illegal drugs.”
UNICEF said it is “continuously working” to combat online sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Among its efforts, it noted, is the implementation of Safer Kids Philippines, a six-year program that aims to reduce the prevalence of online sexual abuse by “strengthening government child protection systems.”
In February, Safer Kids Philippines – which is also done in partnership with the Australian Embassy, Save the Children, and the Asia Foundation appealed to the Philippine government to heighten the implementation of the Child Online Safeguarding Policy under the Department of Information and Communications Technology.
“The fight against online sexual abuse and exploitation is everybody’s fight. We ask all concerned agencies, our children and their parents, and our local communities to join us in combating this grave and egregious violation of our children’s rights,” Dendevnorov said.
“Every child has the right to survive and thrive in a safe and secure environment, whether online or offline,” he added.
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