In Talisay City, Cebu in the Philippines, online exploitation of children (OCSE) has been a growing issue especially after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Terre des Hommes Netherlands has been trying to understand this problem through research and working with communities so that it can be prevented.
The advancement of technology and economy has been positive to everyday life in the Philippines. However, this also contributed to making children more vulnerable to dangers. Cheap internet, low-priced cell phones, ability to speak English, and availability of money remittance centers make children vulnerable to exploitation. In addition, poverty, prevailing norms of secrecy, lack of parental supervision, parents working abroad, and lack of capacity to investigate, prosecute perpetrators, rescue and rehabilitate victims had been key factors in rising online exploitation in the country.
The pandemic contributed to the high percentage of internet use which increased the risk of children becoming involved in OCSE. Children are most vulnerable to online sexual exploitation due to poverty and lack of awareness about the new online environment. Parents are also not aware of how children use computers or mobile phones. Communities such as neighbourhoods in Talisay City also have a lack of awareness of how to spot red flags and how to report it.
After years of research by Terre des Hommes Netherlands and its partners such as local government units, staff used their skills and knowledge to increase awareness. By creating a module that suits children, parents, and government workers - people learned more about child rights, child protection issues, and how to prevent online grooming of children. Through different workshops, different services were discussed and service providers such as health care practitioners and law enforcement learned about appropriate management of child victims.
“This module equips service provides such as social workers in identifying red flags of OCSE in the community and after the training, they learned how to take action if there is a case”, said Lowella Vestil, a Social Welfare Officer in Talisay City and an active member of child protection working group.
Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ project in Cebu Province ended in December 2021. Despite the end of the organisation’s support in this part of the country, staff ensured that sustainability of child protection mechanisms regarding online exploitation is maintained through implementation of laws and services to the local community governments.