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Ensuring a safer online environment for children during quarantine

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SaferKidsPH, a consortium of Save the Children Philippines, The Asia Foundation and UNICEF, and funded by the Australian Government, is expanding its efforts to protect children against online sexual abuse and exploitation during the COVID-19 enhanced community quarantine. -- ART BY JOY D. DAGUN

Not everyone is safe at home.

With millions of children stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, many have turned to the Internet as both a resource for communication, education, and entertainment. Yet, even as online platforms become increasingly important spaces for learning and socializing, they can also expose children to the unsavory elements of human nature.

Children face a higher risk of being exposed to online predators in the wake of the enhanced community quarantine. More disturbingly, most cases of online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines involve parents or family members as facilitators. As the country bunkers down to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, more children could be vulnerable to exploitation in their own homes.

Around seven million children are sexually abused in the country every year, with more than 70% of the children between 10 and 18 years old. Among those victims, 20% are under six years of age. Cases of child sexual abuse are one of the most common issues that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has to handle after abandonment and neglect. Despite the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, rape remains the most frequent type of sexual abuse, while a third or 33% is due to incest.

The 2015 Child Protection Network Annual Report stated that 87% of all cases of sexual violence are girls, 11.7% of which occurred in the family home. While victims of sexual exploitation for commercial purposes are predominantly 13 to 18 year-old girls, some of them were forced into prostitution from age 10 for the youngest ones.

SaferKidsPH, a consortium of Save the Children Philippines, The Asia Foundation and UNICEF, and funded by the Australian Government, is expanding its efforts to protect children against online sexual abuse and exploitation during the COVID-19 enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

The initiative aims to address cyberbullying, online sexual abuse and exploitation, and other forms of harm that may have increased risks during the quarantine period, as children spend more time online, with or without the guidance of a parent or carer.

Starting April 15, SaferKidsPH, in collaboration with the Department of Information and Communications Technology, the National Telecommunications Commission, Smart Communications, and Globe Telecom, launches an SMS campaign focusing on practical child online safety measures that can be used during the COVID-19 ECQ. Mobile subscribers are invited to visit the platforms of SaferKidsPH and UNICEF for more information.

Brigadier General Alessandro C. Abella, Chief of the Philippine National Police-Women and Children Protection Center (PNP-WCPC), said that during the lockdown, his staff will continue to receive, monitor, and respond to online sexual abuse and exploitation of children-related reports.

“Even in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the PNP-WCPC continues to be aggressive in its fight against online sexual exploitation of children,” he said.

For more information on how to stay safe online and how you can help stop online sexual exploitation of children, please visit www.saferkidsph.org. You may also follow SaferKidsPH on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

SaferKidsPH, a six-year Australian Government initiative (2019-2025), aims to keep children safe online through awareness raising; supporting the investigation, prosecution and adjudication of online sexual exploitation of children cases; and improving child protection services in the communities. SaferKidsPH is implemented through the Australian Federal Police and the consortium of Save the Children Philippines, The Asia Foundation, and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Philippines. -– Bjorn Biel M. Beltran

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