As the month-long global celebration of this year’s Safer Internet Day draws to a close, Plan International Philippines calls for a concerted effort anew to end the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) and protect girls and young women from online gender-based violence amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data show that OSEC cases have jumped three-fold during the countrywide community quarantine. CyberTipline reports of OSEC received by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) for the Philippines spiked to over 1,200,000 in 2020 from more than 400,000 in 2019.
“As a crime thriving in the shadows, the online sexual abuse and exploitation of children becomes a secret pandemic that demands equal attention and treatment,” says Ana Maria Locsin, Plan International Philippines’ Country Director. “With the world embracing a new normal, there should be strengthened mandates, tools, and safeguards that ensure the protection of children from abusers, predators, and criminals lurking online.”
As a member of Child Rights Network, the largest alliance of organizations pushing for child rights legislation in the country, Plan International Philippines, along with other child-focused groups, played a key role in pushing for the filing of House Resolution 1118, which calls for an investigation into the alarming situation of OSEC in the Philippines and a comprehensive review of related laws and policies.
Plan International Philippines advocates for a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach in combatting OSEC, enjoining not only government actors but also private sector stakeholders such as internet service providers and social media companies, civil society, communities, the media, schools, parents, and even children and young people themselves to drive the conversation on OSEC, effectively address the growing cybercrime, and keep the internet safe for all.
In recognition of the Safer Internet Day on February 9, Plan International Philippines partnered with Twitter Asia Pacific to host a live Twitter conversation around keeping children safe on the internet. Participated in by representatives from Plan International Philippines, Twitter Philippines, Unicef Philippines, ECPAT Philippines, and the Philippine Commission on Women, the discussion included useful tips on reporting and responding to online abuse and highlighted the importance of working together for a better internet.
In the conversation, Plan International Philippines also raised alarm over girls facing more threats and harassment online simply for being young and female.
“We also call on everyone to stand with girls and young women against online harassment. Advocate for gender-responsive ICT policies and help make the internet become more inclusive,” said Sheila Estabillo, Plan International Philippines’ Child Online Protection Specialist, in her tweet during the live discussion.
#FreeToBeOnline, a new research and campaign launched by Plan International, reveals that 7 in 10 girls in the Philippines have experienced harassment on social media. The study also shows that half of the girls surveyed globally face more harassment online that on the street, and that most perpetrators hide from internet anonymity.
In its call for a safer internet for all, Plan International Philippines join girls and young women in demanding action from social media and tech companies, governments, civil society organizations, and other internet users. This includes creating stronger protection mechanisms against online gender-based violence, holding online perpetrators accountable, and listening to and amplifying girls’ voices.
“The use of internet has created a new place of abuse and vulnerability for many girls and young women,” says Locsin. “Until we end all forms of gender-based violence, a world where girls have the power to be leaders will remain a distant dream.”