‘Sweetie’ project highlights need for effective measures vs. child pornography

“In a very short period, over 20,000 predators from around the world approached the virtual 10- year-old asking for webcam sex performances.” – Terre des Homes


MANILA – Child’s rights organizations in the Philippines lauded Terre des Homes (TDH), an international child rights organization, for gaining a headway in the battle against the serious problem of child pornography by creating “Sweetie”, a computer-generated image (CGI) patterned after a 10-year old Filipina girl, and being able to track down over a thousand child predators from more than 65 countries.

Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns said TDH’s initiative is a positive step in the battle against the sexual exploitation of children.

Hans Guyt, director of campaigns at TDH in the Netherlands, said in an interview with Deutsche Welle, a German online newspaper, they visited the Philippines a year and a half ago for their project against child prostitution. They found out that children are being made to work inside internet shops. Guyt said these children are being forced by their parents.

“We noticed that a lot of child prostitutes had just disappeared from view. They are now working from Internet cafes and that’s how we first got interested in this particular subject. We also found out that more children are actually exposed to this new phenomenon,” Guyt was quoted saying in the report.

The TDH’s previous visit in the Philippines prompted the idea of creating “Sweetie.” With Sweetie, TDH said, online child predators could be easily tracked down.

“With an innovative technology the virtual character Sweetie was created to be controlled by Terre des Hommes researchers. From a remote building in Amsterdam the researchers operated in public chat rooms. In a very short period, over 20,000 predators from around the world approached the virtual 10- year-old asking for webcam sex performances. While the adults interacted with the virtual girl, the researchers gathered information about them through social media to uncover their identities.”

According to the TDH’s data, United States topped the list of countries where child predators were identified with 254, followed by Britain with 110 and India with 103. The TDH has handed the video footage of the child predators to police authorities.

Prostitution due to poverty

Salinlahi said Sweetie had shed light on one of the horrifying realities in Philippine society. “But the battle is far from over,” Kharlo Manano acting secretary general of Salinlahi said.

Manano said Sweetie showed that child pornography is very much real and continues to proliferate because the Philippine government is continuing to fail in addressing its root cause: poverty.

“Children who come from impoverished backgrounds are faced with everyday struggles to survive. They are forced to find sources of income through any means. This vulnerability is being used and abused by sexual exploiters who run cybersex dens and employ these children to perform sexual acts in exchange for a small amount of money,” Manano said.

Manano cited a joint inquiry by Transparency International, United Nations and US Department of State, which revealed that 300,000 to 400,000 Filipina women fell victim to human trafficking. Sixty to 100,000 of them are children. Data also showed 80 percent of women victims of human trafficking are below 18 years old. The study identified poverty as the main vulnerability afflicting women and children.

He also cited the Trafficking in Persons Report 2013 of the US Department of State where the Philippines retained its Tier 2 status, which means that the government has failed to fully comply with the minimum standards set by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

“Sweetie is real,” Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luz Ilagan said. She said the TDH documentation on the prevalence of pedophilia through Sweetie is something that should be taken seriously.

“It is clearly a reflection of how a growing number of young girls from the Philippines are falling prey to cyber prostitution and pedophile syndicates. Adding to Sweetie’s credibility as a subject in this project is the reality of poverty in the Philippines that forces women and girls to cyber prostitution,” said Ilagan.

More child victims amid laws protecting children

With the TDH campaign and the data that it had culled, the GWP filed a resolution to look into the prevalence of pedophilia, and the use of Filipino children for cyber prostitution.

On Nov. 11, Ilagan with Rep Emmi De Jesus filed House Resolution 453 which Directs the Committees on the Welfare of Children and Women and Gender Equality to conduct an inquiry on the virtual “Sweetie” and the glaring inability of the Philippine government to stop pedophilia and child pornography.

The resolution cited a provision in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which states that “It shall be the duty of the State to defend the right of children to assistance, including proper care and nutrition, and special protection from all forms of neglect, abuse, cruelty, exploitation and other conditions prejudicial to their development.”

The resolution cited the increasing victimization of children even with the passage of the Anti-Child Pornography Law and the prevalence of cyber prostitution targeting children in the Central Visayas, Ilocos, Zamboanga and the National Capital Region. The resolution read, “The continued and increasing victimization of children via cyber pornography in the light of the passage of the Anti-Child Pornography Law four years ago, raises questions on its implementation.”

“The National Statistics Coordination Board claims that ‘most of the sexually-exploited children are victims of cyber pornography, at an alarming rate of 33.8 percent in 2009 and 31.5 percent in 2010.’”

The Gabriela solons urged the Interpol as well as local law enforcement agencies to further undertake operations to track down and impose sanctions on individuals that the TDH project managed to identify.

“We hope that an investigation into the prevalence of pedophilia and cyber prostitution involving children and young girls in the Philippines would result in not just the enactment of laws for their protection, but concrete measures to address poverty,” De Jesus said. She added that the government should accept the reality that extreme poverty forces many women and children to prostitution and exposes them to violence so that the government could come up with appropriate and effective responses.

Meanwhile, Salinlahi said they would hold simultaneous protest actions on November 20, in time for the 23rd anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to condemn the government’s inaction in protecting children.

“We urge the public, especially child rights advocates to turn our outrage into action by pushing the State to ultimately fulfill its responsibility to protect children from any form of abuse and exploitation,” Manano said. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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