Consortium launches Project to protect Filipino children from online sexual exploitation

Terre des Hommes Netherlands, ECPAT Philippines, and Bidlisiw Foundation, launched the Project Creating a safer Online Environment for Every Child (CONEC) last 31 July 2023 in celebration of the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (WDAT) in Cebu City.

The project aims to protect children of all ages and gender from online sexual exploitation by strengthening local child protection systems through close collaboration with children, communities, civil society organisations, government agencies and service providers.

The Disrupting Harm in the Philippines reportrreleased in 2022 revealed that an estimate of two (2) million children in the country were subjected to online sexual abuse and exploitation in only a span of a year.

The report also highlighted that the online world has made it easier for offenders to sexually abuse and exploit children. For instance, 38% of children surveyed shared that they received offers of money or gifts from unknown individuals on social media in exchange for sexual images.

“We acknowledge the efforts of the Philippine government to address the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC). However, despite the country’s relatively advanced laws on child protection, the implementation of these laws remains to be challenging. Without fully functional child protection mechanisms, gaps in existing programmes and services, and limited investment from the local and national governments, it would be difficult to sustainably address the issue of OSEC”, said Ms. Eva Maria Cayanan, Country Director of Terre des Hommes Netherlands in the Philippines.

In the baseline study entitled “Transforming Systems: ConnectinggChildren (2023) under the Project CONEC, it was uncovered that 9 out of 10 children and 8 out of 10 parents/community members consulted in the study said that they are unaware of OSEC cases in their communities, which limit their capacity to prevent and respond to it.

“Many children, just like in my community, are still unaware of the OSEC issue. We need to use technology, including social media platforms, as a way to raise awareness on it, and to call for the strict implementation of local policies that will end OSEC. We need to make children’s needs visible in fighting this issue,” added by Uriel, a child advocate from Cebu Province.

Addressing the complex issue of OSEC necessitates a system strengthening approach, which Project CONEC will carry out. This will include a combination of awareness raising, national and local level policy advocacy, and capacity-building activities.

This project will also address the multiple layers of issues and realities of OSEC, and promote social protection, including provision of appropriate services that will provide victims, children at risk, and their families a jump start in life through the Social Protection Package (SPP).