Save the Children calls for unified effort to keep kids safe online

A Mother guides her son in using a mobile phone in Matag-ob, Leyte. (Photo by LJ Pasion /Save the Children)

Save the Children Philippines calls on the government, civil society organizations, the private sector, parents, carers, teachers, and the media to work together in protecting children from online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC).

The Philippine government’s National Baseline Study on Violence against Children (NBS-VAC) revealed that one in two (1 in 2) Filipino children experience online abuse with one in four (1 in 4) being exposed to sexually explicit content.

Children also said they have been sent sexual messages (29%) and some (3%) said they have shared images of themselves nude or their sexual activities on the internet or through their mobile phones.

There are several factors that contribute to the persistence of this issue in the country such as the lack of capacity of families to support their children’s basic needs and the prevailing notion that the lack of physical contact means there is no abuse or exploitation that is taking place.

The Systematic Literature Review (SLR) of the Drivers of Violence identified the following as the drivers of online violence: poverty, broken homes, poor parenting, consumerism, peer influence, family values, and socio-cultural beliefs and norms.

“Addressing the drivers of online violence requires strengthening the country’s child protection system. This means the government should pass and implement laws and policies that would protect children from OSAEC, have prevention programs and accessible services for children and their families, implement widespread information dissemination on OSAEC, and prosecute those who are exploiting our children and women through the use of information, communication technologies,” says Atty. Albert Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines.

Atty. Muyot also emphasized the importance of the government allocating resources to sustainably support efforts to combat this issue, and the importance of the private sector’s involvement particularly the Internet Service Providers and the business owners who operate internet shops that can be used by children in accessing the internet.

“Safety measures must be put in place to make sure that children who are using the internet are protected,” Muyot said.

Engaging in risky online behavior is common for Filipino children according to the SLR, and because of their largely unsupervised internet use, children are at great risk for online sexual solicitation and grooming.

Hence, Save the Children believes that families and schools play a crucial role in keeping children safe online.

“The family should provide the first layer of protection for children. A good relationship between parents and their children will ensure that they will listen to their parent’s advice, and that the parent can respectfully monitor their children’s use of the internet. Parents should spend time with their children doing fun things that do not use gadgets such as reading together or playing games/sports outdoors. They should also take the time to educate their kids on how they can protect themselves online, which also means that they should also be knowledgeable on the safe use of the internet and social media,” Wilma Bañaga, Child Protection Advisor of Save the Children, said.

“They should be able to provide for their children’s basic needs, which not only includes food, shelter and education but also a warm and nurturing environment. They should provide proper guidance and be good role models to their children. If the family is unable to provide this for whatever reason, the government should give them the necessary support such as parenting sessions and livelihood opportunities.”

Save the Children also appealed to schools to make use of the Cybersafe modules developed by the Department of Education (DepED) to teach learners on the safe use of digital technology.

Save the Children Philippines made the call as part of the National Awareness Week for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation from February 10-14. February 11 is Safer Internet Day with the theme: “Together for a better Internet.”  Save the Children joins the global community in raising awareness on online safety particularly for children, and the important role of all adults in helping protect children online.

Save the Children Philippines is a member of SaferkidsPH consortium together with UNICEF and the Asia Foundation.

SaferKidsPH, an Australian Government initiative, is working towards reducing the incidence of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines.

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.