Two million filipino children abused online during pandemic
By Fr. Shay Cullen
Eleven-year-old Evangeline is one of several children rescued from child sex abusers that abused them over the internet for money from rich foreigner pedophiles. The demand is huge. The other child victims are boys and girls- six, eight, and 10 years old. They were repeatedly sexually abused in front of an internet-connected cellphone using the Philippine Internet service providers (ISPs) while the foreign pedophiles around the world paid and watched the horrific shows. A recent study conducted in 2021 by Unicef, Interpol, and Ecpat International, all great advocates of child rights, discovered that among Filipino children between the ages of 12 years and 17, one in every five suffered sexual abuse over the Internet, especially during the lockdowns. That is an estimated two million abused Filipino children in total.
The live sex shows were streamed over the Internet. Other acts were recorded on video and uploaded and sent to pedophiles through the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) likely operated by either PLDT, Globe, or Dito. While the law RA 9775 of 2009 demands that the mega-rich telecommunication corporations install blocking software to detect, block and report the child sexual abuse images, they have chosen not to obey the law and arrange privately with the National Telecommunications Commission to pay a small fine. Please correct me if this is incorrect. They also facilitate Facebook and Messenger where child sex abuse is rampant.
Evangeline and the rescued children of online sexual abuse were eventually referred to the Preda Foundation’s therapeutic homes for abused children. The children soon felt safe, protected, and trusted and soon disclosed to social workers the horrific acts of sexual abuse done to them. They are healing and recovering, joining the games, dancing, singing, story-telling, and therapy sessions. They will soon study again.
The greatest injustice to the child victims is when the parent or authority who knows of the abuse does nothing to help and report abuse. There is injustice when the police don’t investigate when the prosecutor takes bribes to dismiss a child rape case when a judge allows delays, postponements, and sides with the abusers failing to protect the rights of the child victim. The children never forget the injustice and abuse done to them. Such injustice is the evil that authorities have brought upon themselves and they will be held accountable at the final judgment.
The child suffers also when there are no successful counseling, therapy, healing, and recovery centers in the Philippines. This lack exasperates the suffering and mental health of the estimated two million child victims/survivors. There are just a few well-managed non-government organizations (NGOs) that have excellent therapeutic and healing centers that take legal action for victims. There ought to be support for many more of them. They are essential to help in the overall approach to solving the problem. The help process is awareness, reporting, victim protection and therapy and healing, empowerment, legal action, and justice and reintegration. That is the process needed to give life back to an abused child.
Even some judges send the suffering children to a relative without therapy, care, or emotional healing or postpone legal actions against the abusers so the victims do not testify due to witness fatigue. The abusers are allowed to go free to abuse them again or other children. This malpractice buries the pain inside the child that hurts for a lifetime, shaping the personality and character of the individual victim/survivor. Together with preventive education and awareness-building, a strong therapeutic home where the child victims are safe, affirmed, protected, healed, and empowered to testify strongly in their court case against their abusers, is essential.
In general, child sexual abuse online and in society spreads because it remains un-reported. Church and educational institutions cover up the crimes thus becoming an accessory to the crime. Pope Francis has consistently condemned clerical abuse of children. “There is, unfortunately, a considerable number. I would like to express to the victims my sadness and pain for the trauma that they suffered. It is also my shame, our shame, for the incapacity of the church for too long to put them at the center of its concerns.”
The child victims are scared to report abuse. Crimes spread because of the lack of awareness that child abuse is a heinous crime. Many people are in denial, they cover up crimes in a family, in church, in schools, and in colleges. Also, ignorance, inaction by government officials, non-reporting of abuse, apathy and indifference, impunity, and government approval of the sex industry are the causes of spreading online child sexual abuse and child rape. Although there are strong laws, the lack of effective and successful enforcement is also a major problem.
The root causes are well known. Local and national authorities promoted the sex industry around the US military bases in Olongapo and Angeles cities for 50 years to their eternal shame. They in effect sold women and children for sex abuse to US servicemen. This was opposed by Preda Foundation and this writer was harassed and almost deported for exposing the child abuse until the bases were closed down by the Philippine Senate after the 10-year, Preda-led anti-base/pro-conversion campaign. Now, the Hanjin shipyard will become the new US military repair base in Subic Bay. More sex tourism and child abuse can be expected. We need a loving, caring, compassionate woman president to protect women and children.
Philippine authorities do not see child abuse or human trafficking as a serious problem but for many, it is a revenue-generating business, illegal as it is, where young minors are the star attraction. That historical policy is what devastated Philippine morality and the silence and inaction of the institutional church allowed it to happen.
The victims of online sexual abuse are just a few of the estimated two million children in the Philippines sexually abused and exploited by parents and relatives in the online internet child abuse business. It grew during the pandemic lockdown when members of the family turned to sexually abuse their children for sexual satisfaction of their urges and videotaped it and made money from selling the images to foreign pedophiles.
The Preda children’s homes have almost 50 children in care and therapy and the children are recovering and being empowered and educated. With the help of Preda social workers and a paralegal officer, they are filing their legal cases against their abusers. Many are winning, with an average score of 16 convictions every year, with most abusers getting life sentences. Saving more than a hundred victims/survivors every year and helping them return to a near-normal successful life free from the trauma of abuse is something positive that we can all be glad of.