A religious congregation of nuns in the Philippines has called on the public to be more vigilant against online sex exploitation of children amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement, the Religious of the Good Shepherd said women and children have become more vulnerable to domestic violence and exploitation during the lockdown.
The nuns said that while the pandemic has increased people’s yearning to feel connected through technology, there are those who use this to harm others.
“These individuals take advantage of the situation of their physical isolation to exploit others, especially women and children who are desperate to survive this crisis,” read the nun’s statement.
The religious group warned that the number of unreported cases of online sex exploitation of children, or OSEC, have become “more frightening.”
“Human trafficking is a growing global criminal industry, defying human rights and dignity, even in this pandemic,” said the group.
The nuns said the Philippines has been a global hotspot for OSEC, which has been described as an emerging type of human trafficking where children are abused in their own homes for the entertainment of paying customers.
OSEC is defined as the production, for the purpose of online publication, of visual depictions, like photos, videos, live streaming of the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor for a third party who is not in the physical presence of the victim, in exchange for money.
A study done by non-government group International Justice Mission (IJM) noted that the prevalence rate of internet-based child sexual exploitation in the country more than tripled in the past three years.
The study shows that the estimated number of IP addresses in the Philippines used for child sexual exploitation each year rose to 81,723 in 2017 from about 23,333 in 2014.
Lawyer Samson Inocencio Jr., director of IJM in the Philippines, said the group and its government partners have already rescued 613 victims, the youngest of whom was an infant, since 2011.
IJM’s collaborative casework data revealed that 62 percent of its OSEC cases involved a family member, relative, close family friends, or neighbors, as perpetrator.
At the start of the coronavirus lockdown, IJM and its partner organizations have supported two police operations where at least seven minors — six males and one female, ages between 3 and 14 — were rescued.
Inocencio admitted that the lockdown added more barriers to detection of the crime because the victims have less or no access to other members of the community.
The lawyer lauded law enforcement agencies for doubling their efforts to continue investigating cases of OSEC and arrest the perpetrators.
He also commended church groups for its efforts “to sound the alarm about the children’s increased vulnerability to OSEC” during the pandemic.
“We are further encouraged by their compassion and generosity in opening their homes and facilities to shelter victims who have been rescued from this horrific crime,” Inocencio told LiCAS.news.