THE UNITED Nations (UN) special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children on Thursday said the Philippines lacked trained officials at the village level to monitor reports of child sexual abuse.

“I am concerned that local government politics negatively impacts the child protection structure due to regular changes of personnel,” Mama Fatima Singhateh, the UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, told a news briefing in Manila streamed live on Facebook.

She met with Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla at his office on Thursday to discuss government efforts to combat the exploitation of children online. The Department of Justice (DoJ) posted videos and photos of her courtesy on its Twitter page.

Mr. Remulla was joined by Justice Undersecretary Raul T. Vasquez, inter-agency task force on trafficking head Nicholas F. Ty and Justice spokesman Jose Dominic F. Clavano IV.

Ms. Singhateh said the government should train more prosecutors to handle child sexual exploitation cases.

Data from the DoJ dated July and sent to reporters on Thursday showed there were 1,914 victim-survivors of human trafficking last year. The agency said 33% of the total were minors.

At least two other special rapporteurs will visit the country to help bolster the country’s human rights initiatives, the Justice chief said last month.

The UN special rapporteurs on extralegal killings and freedom of expression are set to hold capacity-building programs in the country next year.

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened children’s vulnerability to violence and exploitation, the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) said in a report in April 2021.

“Globally, around 1.8 billion children live in 104 countries where violence prevention and response services have been disrupted due to COVID-19,” it said. “In the Philippines, the Office of Cybercrime of the DoJ reported a 260% increase in cyber-tips related to online sexual exploitation and abuse of children.”    

Violence against children takes many forms. It can be physical, emotional, or sexual, the UN agency said. “It happens in all countries and any setting — in a child’s home, community school and online.”

In the Philippines, even before the pandemic, children experienced high prevalence of violence whether at home, in school, the workplace, community or during dating, according to the 2015 National Baseline Study on Violence against Children by the Council for the Welfare of Children and UNICEF Philippines.

In August the DoJ, Interior and Local Government, Social Welfare and Information and Communications departments formed a task force to combat the online exploitation of children.

Mr. Remulla has said he would ask telecommunication companies to enforce filters to block malicious websites and payments possibly linked to child abuse.

The government will also coordinate with the United States Department of Homeland Security to track down foreigners exploiting kids.

Data from the Interior and Local Government department showed authorities conducted 227 operations combating online sexual exploitation and convicted 67 people behind illegal websites from 2017 to July 2022.

In 2017, UNICEF said one of three internet users were children below 18 and were at risk of harmful content and contact.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in March said the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center, a separate task force, had rescued 134 sexually exploited children and arrested 15 offenders from 51 operations since last year.

The NBI that month also opened its Cyber Trafficking in Persons Monitoring Center, which tracks down human trafficking cases in cyber-space.

“Law enforcement agencies around the world know that the Philippines is one of the favorite places for these perverts who exploit children,” Mr. Remulla told a press briefing on Aug. 23.

“This is not a source of pride but a source of shame, which is why we are declaring war against the exploitation of children.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez