Children and youths are spending significantly more time online now that school and all other activities have been suspended due to the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). Since the ECQ started last 15 March, the majority of Filipinos have been confined to their homes, leaving children, youths, and adults alike with very limited things to do. The SKPH Consortium, composed of Save the Children Philippines, The Asia Foundation, led by UNICEF, and supported by the Australian Government, recognizes that while online platforms provide critical socializing, learning, and playing environments for our children, it also increases their exposure to online harm such as cyberbullying, risky online behavior, and online sexual abuse and exploitation. Another direct effect of the ECQ is the heightened economic vulnerability of many Filipino families whose heads of households have limited access to resources. Taken together: loss of income, movement restrictions for children, isolation, heightened exposure to online platforms, and high levels of stress and anxiety will increase the likelihood of children to experience online violence.
Examples of OSAEC that can be experienced by children during the ECQ includes online sexual grooming; live streaming; and creation, production, and distribution of child sexual abuse and exploitation materials by pedophiles and predators. This is the secret pandemic affecting children in their very homes.
“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Philippine National Police-Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC) continues to be aggressive in its fight against online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC),” PNP-WCPC Chief, Brigadier General Alessandro C. Abella, said. He added that during the ongoing ECQ, they continue to receive and monitor online sexual abuse and exploitation of children-related reports.
In celebration of Safer Internet Month this year, SKPH initiated a consultation workshop with children and youths from February 21 to 23, 2020 in Manila that provided a foundation to the ASEAN Regional Conference on Child Online Protection last February 25 to 27 in Thailand. During the workshop, children-participants called on ‘barangay’ officials or community leaders to conduct seminars, workshops, and/or trainings on how to responsibly use the internet; internet service providers to filter inappropriate content and limit children’s social media access; and the Philippine Government to implement more strictly existing policies and legislation and to allot more resources on child online protection.
Given the heightened risks of online harms, SKPH continues to work with Government, civil society, and private sector partners to ensure all children are safe online. Child protection services and workers are continuously being sensitized on the nuances of online violence, and we call on the Government to adequately resource and equip these systems so they can better and more timely respond to the most vulnerable of children. These services should include mental health and psychosocial support, case management, and emergency alternative care arrangements, noting that children in OSAEC cases are
more often victimized by people known to and trusted by them in their homes. National helplines, school counsellors, and other child-friendly reporting mechanisms must be made available to enable
children in distress to reach out for help. Online resources, such as that of www.saferkidsph.com, must be available to children, parents, and caregivers to help guide and advise them to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19, and how to protect their children online. It is only in the coming together of all these actors and institutions, from both the public and private sector, that we can succeed in keeping children safe during these troubling times.
Starting April 15, through the support of the Department of Information and Communications Technology, National Telecommunications Commission, Smart Communications and Globe Telecom will be sending out a public service advisory SMS blast to all their consumers subscribers inviting children, parents and community members of the communities to visit online platforms of unicef.ph and S saferkidsph.org Ph and UNICEF for more information on how to protect children and adolescents from violence, both online and offline.
The following hotlines are also available to report OSAEC:
1) PNP Aleng Pulis – +63 919 777 7377
2) Action Against Human Trafficking – 1343 within Metro Manila; (02) 1343 outside Metro Manila
3) Bantay Bata – 163
4.) UP-PGH COVID-19 Bayanihan Operations Center – 155 200 or https://publicservice.up.edu.ph/uppgh-bayanihan-na.
For more information on how to stay safe online and how you can help stop OSAEC, please visit www.saferkidsph.org. You may also follow SaferKidsPH on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
For further information, please contact:
Nino Lasin, Child Protection Advocacy Officer, UNICEF Philippines, +63 929 1746232, firstname.lastname@example.org
SaferKidsPH is the pioneering Consortium composed of UNICEF, Save the Children Philippines (SCP), The Asia Foundation (TAF), and the Australian Embassy. The SaferKidsPH programme is a six-year initiative (2019-2025) that aims to enhance the protection of the rights of Filipino children by helping to keep them safe from online sexual abuse and exploitation.