By Mariel Alison L. Aguinaldo 

The Department of Education (DepEd), in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is drafting a supplemental policy to the Child Protection Policy that seeks to protect students from different kinds of online abuse as the start of virtual classes draws closer.

The agencies are consulting stakeholders, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local government units, to address the risks that come with home-based schooling and online learning, said Gil Anthony Aquino, child rights senior officer at DepEd, during a webinar hosted by social media platform TikTok.

DepEd will launch a webinar series this September with the theme, “Isulong! Karapatan ng Bata sa Edukasyon sa Panahon ng COVID-19.” Fourteen sessions have been planned; among the topics to be discussed are positive discipline and education for parents, child rights in education, and risks in online and home-based learning.

TikTok, which organized the event, shared that private messaging is disabled for users under 16 years old; photo- and video-sharing on private messages and comments are also not allowed. The family pairing feature, launched in April, allows parents to sync their accounts to their children’s accounts. This enables them to restrict age-inappropriate content and limit usage of the app.

“This is a very participatory way by which parents could be directly involved in controlling how their family members use TikTok,” said Donny Eryastha, head of public policy for Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines at TikTok.

With President Rodrigo R. Duterte banning face-to-face classes for schools until vaccines are available, DepEd developed the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan which provides different modes of learning for students. For many children, this means more time spent using digital devices and consequently, a higher chance of being exposed to abusive online activities.

International Justice Mission, an NGO focused on human rights, estimated that in 2017, there were 81,723 Internet protocol addresses used for child sexual exploitation in the Philippines. Of 90 online sexual child abuse cases investigated between 2011 and 2017, 21% of the 381 victims were between 13 to 15 years old while 16% were between 10 to 12 years old.

To make these efforts against online child abuse more effective, UNICEF calls on parents to take protective measures within their means. This includes practical interventions like covering web cameras when not in use and maximizing safe search and privacy settings on web browsers. Moral support and vigilance can also encourage a children to speak up when they experience online abuse.

“If they do report, we need to support them… If a child appears to be upset or secretive with online activities or if they’re experiencing cyberbullying, we need to work with our children to establish rules on how, when, and where devices can be used,” said Maria Margarita P. Ardivilla, child protection specialist at UNICEF.

“Creating a Safe Online Environment for Creative Expression,” a webinar organized by TikTok, was held on August 27.