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Online sexual abuse of children rising amid COVID-19 pandemic

SAVE the Children Philippines has raised concern that more children are at risk from online sexual abuse and exploitation amid the COVID-19 pandemic as families resort to easy money due to deepening poverty, while children are still not allowed to leave homes.

With the theme “Bagong Normal: Ligtas na Internet for All,” the annual Safer Internet Day for Children in the Philippines calls on public and private stakeholders to join the campaign in making the internet a safer and better place for all, especially for children and young people.

Atty. Alberto Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines, said the pandemic is no longer a health crisis but a child rights crisis that must be addressed with urgency.

“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 Muyot.

He called on the local government units, schools, and communities to strengthen the protective and legal services to ensure that children are safe from online sexual abuse and exploitation.

Cases of OSAEC in the Philippines increased by 264.6 percent or 202,605 more reports during the imposition of the enhanced community quarantine from March to May 2020, compared to the 76,561 cases during the same period in 2019, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ), citing data from the US-based National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Save the Children Philippines supports Malacañang’s call to strengthen the campaign against OSAEC by monitoring the strict implementation of Republic Act 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009.

The child rights organization is joining the month-long campaign activities at the National Capital Region and Mindanao to raise awareness on protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Wilma Banaga, Child Protection Advisor of Save the Children Philippines, said that parents, guardians and other relatives must understand that they have the responsibility to meet the needs of children, and to protect them from any form of abuse and exploitation.

“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 Banaga.

Save the Children Philippines is a member of SaferKidsPH, an Australian government initiative to reduce the online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines, being implemented along with The Asia Foundation and UNICEF. SaferKidsPH works with children and their families, the Philippine government, civil society and the private sector to ensure that children are safe and protected online.

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