Defending the human rights of children on the Internet

By Fr. Shay Cullen

Sunday was Human Rights Day when everyone should have reflected on their life and dignity and if their rights are respected and upheld. Those doing the upholding are human rights workers that stand for the oppressed and the poor. They are great people, Filipinos included, working in a world that is losing respect for human rights. The dedicated defenders of human rights of the people and the environment are dying for their beliefs.

In the Philippines alone in 2020, there were 25 human rights activists killed according to the International Federation of Human Rights. In the first six months of 2021, another 15 were assassinated. The dedicated human rights workers are branded as rebels, subversives or terrorists. They even become prime targets for the government-sponsored death squads. Between 12,000 and 30,000 people have been killed in the “drug war.”

The government’s own data shows more than 6,190 people were killed in police operations from 2016 to August 2021. Global Witness reports that 19 environmentalists were killed in the Philippines in 2021. However, 30 were killed in 2020. An estimated 270 people’s land defenders were killed in the Philippines between 2012 and 2021. Many of the killings were related to protests against deforestation and mining corporations. In fact, they are the true Filipino heroes standing up for the poor and the oppressed, the true Christians giving their lives for their friends.

No arrests, no evidence, no trials are needed by the authorities; just the nod of the chief and there is a police raid and a suspect is killed. Most often, the finger-pointing is by an informant with no evidence. This is on-going and it must stop if the Philippine people are to be recognized as a civilized people with universal respect for human rights and dignity and live free of tyranny, fear, poverty and violence. They must demand that their human rights are respected if ever the Philippines will become a true democracy. Historically, a vastly wealthy dynastic fiefdom of conglomerates of ruling families and corporate moguls, numbering a few thousand, run the country and own 46 percent of the total wealth among them.

The human rights of children to live free of fear of trafficking, rape and sexual abuse in their families and community and on-line, have to be protected. The government and the telecom corporations have the prime duty to do this under RA 11903.The long lock-downs during the height of the pandemic is having repercussions until the present. Children are going back to school and are revealing to teachers and classmates how they were sexually abused by their fathers, other relatives or live-in partners of their mothers and their rights violated. The reports of online sexual abuse of children has soared during the pandemic and it is continuing until the present.

As previously reported, the number of online child sexual abuse reports received by the Philippine government cyber-crime office is staggering. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), as reported by the media, there was an increase of 264.63 percent in the number of Filipino children sexually abused on the Internet during the pandemic in 2021. However, it’s impossible to know the number of children abused on-line as it is a crime on very small children done in secret within families. It is tragic for thousands of Filipino children to suffer and endure such abuse perpetrated by their parents and relatives to earn money from foreign pedophiles.

The Philippines is the Asian center or hub of such horrific abuse of children, some as young as three years old. With a low-cost smart phone connected to the Internet, a child abuser is contacted by a pedophile from a foreign country through Facebook or other social media platforms and offers of money are made to watch sex shows involving young children. Most of the pedophiles are from Europe, the UK, the United States, Canada, and Australia. The police in these countries send tip-offs to the Philippine police but their cyber-unit is understaffed and underfunded. Besides, the Philippine Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the telecommunications corporations such as PLDT/Smart, Globe and Dito have apparently not set up their child abuse search and detect unit to intercept the streaming or transmission of child abuse material through their server computers as required by the new law.

The Republic Act 11930 or the Anti On-line Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) Law passed into law last 30 July 2022 is even stronger on mandating the telecommunications corporations to install and block child sexual abuse online. If they fail to do so, their operating chiefs can be prosecuted and the corporation face huge fines, based on a percentage of their overall net worth.

In previous years, they did not obey the 2009 anti-child pornography law (RA 5779) and no one knows if they even paid fines as a penalty for their non-compliance. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) demanded 47 internet service providers they show cause in a communication in February 2021. The ISPs argued that the anti-child pornography law was clashing with Data Privacy Act and so they could not monitor sites even if they were suspect of allowing the distribution child sexual abuse material.

RA11930 law makes it clear what the telecoms and ISPs must do to protect the human rights of children: “Develop, establish and install mechanisms or measures designed to prevent, detect, respond or report violations of this Act within their websites, platforms, applications, servers or facilities, …… counter violations of this Act which may include the installation of available technology, program, or software to ensure that access to or streaming of violations of this Act will be removed, blocked or filtered.”

When these Internet intermediaries, as the ISPs are called, detect or receive information of child abuse images or live streaming of abuse, they must block it at once at most within 24 hours. Also, the law states that they must “develop and adopt a set of systems and procedures for preventing, blocking, detecting, and reporting of OSAEC and CSAEM committed within their platforms.”

If they do not comply and violate the rights of the child by omission, then their personnel will be held liable:“If the offender is a juridical person, the penalty shall be imposed upon the owner, manager, partner, member of the board of directors and/or any responsible officer of an enterprise who participated in the commission of the crime or shall have knowingly permitted or failed to prevent its commission. In addition, the corporation shall be fined a minimum of ten percent (10%) but not more than thirty percent (30%) of its net worth and its respective license or permit to operate may be revoked.
Child victims will have the right to sue them for violation of their rights. These laws and others must be implemented to stop the horrific trade in child abuse shows and protect the rights of the child.