When Philippine police broke in, they found three girls aged between 7 and 11 years old, lying naked in a bed. The mother of two of the girls was at the back of the room – the third child was her niece -, along with her eldest daughter (13) who was typing something on keyboard. A webcam feed on the computer screen showed the faces of three white men connected through a chat. It is just one of the many cases that concern a hidden world, which is nonetheless extremely widespread: that of sexual abuse of children through Internet, thoroughly investigated in a report published by The Guardian.
An undercover agent had infiltrated in a poor village two weeks before the raid. Pretending to be a Japayuki, a slang term to describe a Filipina prostitute who lives in Japan, she had convinced a resident to introduce her to the children who played with her every day on the gravel roads. Then, the news causally broke on their “show”.
This was not an isolated case. Shortly after, another family was caught in the same area. Then more cases of live streaming of child abuse have appeared in different areas of the Philippines. According to a UN report, there are tens of thousands of children who are believed to be involved in this rapidly expanding sector; today, child abuse produces approximately 1billion dollars.
Virtual Global Taskforce, a partnership of international law enforcement agencies and Interpol, has dedicated this year to the fight against live streaming of child abuse. UNICEF is ready to launch a campaign to educate young people on the risks of the online world, the #WeProtect project. It is difficult to estimate the extent of a sector that involves small anonymous payments, from five to 200 dollars per viewing, mostly managed at the household level, not by large criminal organizations. Thus, contrasting this phenomenon becomes even more complicated. Children are exploited all day long, with morning live-stream for Europeans and Americans, and in for Australia during the day. According to Det Supt, Paul Hopkins, head of the Australian Federal Police team in Manila, who has spent the last two years investigating this crime, the extent of this trade as “monstrous”.
The business is usually immune to criminal conviction. Only two sentences have been registered in the Philippines for this kind of abuse, all other cases are still pending. Unlike previous forms of child sexual abuse, no pictures are uploaded on the internet in these cases; hence, the police cannot monitor them. Chats are live and encrypted via Skype, whereas payments are made through anonymous bank transfers.
Money and extreme poverty are the main reasons why people get involved in pedophilia. Some families – according to local police reports – have begun to connect their children via web after seeing the change in the living standards of their neighbors who had already started to make money at their children’s expense. “They will do anything for their parents – said Lotta Sylwander, UNICEF representative in the Philippines who is leading the online safety campaign -. We need to raise awareness and vigilance on this issue, so that parents and other people understand that child abuse of any kind is not only morally wrong, but also extremely harmful to children’s health and development. Unfortunately, at this moment – she concluded – the situation is getting worse. “The tragedy is that children who grew up in this context, see abuse as normal. An insult to purity, an outrage to civilization, barbarism hidden in one of the many forgotten peripheries of the world.