By REIN TARINAY
MANILA — Silent pandemic.
This is how child rights groups described the increasing online sexual abuse and exploitation of Filipino children, with a whopping 200-percent increase amid a raging pandemic.
From January to December 2020, the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported almost 1.3 million cyber tips in the Philippines, which is more than a 200-percent increase from 2019.
In a statement, Save the Children Philippines said more children are at risk from online sexual abuse and exploitation as families are buried in deep poverty. Children, on the other hand, are not allowed to leave their homes and are isolated from support groups.
From March to May 2020 alone, when the COVID-19 lockdown was first implemented, the Philippine justice department noted a 260-percent increase in reports they have received, compared to the same period in 2019, based on an NCMEC study.
Dubbed as “Bagong Normal: Ligtas na Internet for All,” the annual Safer Internet Day for Children in the Philippines demands on making the internet a safer and better place for all, especially for children and young people.
“Online sexual abuse and exploitation of children is a silent pandemic that has permanent, and devastating effects on children’s mental health and psychosocial well-being,” said Alberto Muyot, who heads the Save the Children Philippines.
With urgency, he called on the government, schools, and communities to strengthen their respective protective and legal services to ensure that children are safe from this child rights crisis. Save the Children Philippines also highlighted the role that parents and guardians play in protecting children from any forms of abuse.
“Parents and other adults who are taking care of children should provide the necessary support and guidance to help protect children from online sexual abuse and exploitation particularly now that they are increasingly going online because of the pandemic,” said Save the Children Philippines Child Protection Advisor Wilma Banaga.
During a virtual summit last year, the International Justice Mission noted how data on online sexual abuses and exploitation of children are limited and spread across disparate sources, “making it difficult for the global community to effectively measure the scale of the crime.”