In order to create positive change for children, involving them must be a priority. Their perspective on many issues provides an important aspect for a solution. A solution that leads them away from harm's way.
Terres de Hommes Netherlands had been managing and implementing a research-driven project on Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE) for three years in the Province of Cebu, Philippines. OCSE is a growing problem in the country. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cases continue to rise as many families resort to other ways to make money.
Considering children as important members of their communities in their own right, TdH-NL recognises that children are able to take an active role in their own environment and current realities, and that they can share their voices about online exploitation that affect them.
With the support of parents and community organisers, TdH-NL consulted with children from 35 districts in Cebu province to contribute in the research for understanding and solving online exploitation. In this context, children are seen as partners.
Prior to the interviews, children were informed of their consent to participate as respondents for the study and their right to stop the interview if they feel uncomfortable with the questions asked. During the interview, it was also observed that gathering them in groups at a designated space such as community halls/centres provided a safer space for the children. Moreover, it became an advantage for the research team that most of the community organisers are well-known to the community, therefore, it did not take them a long time to establish trust with the participating children.
It is vital that any staff or individuals affiliated with Terre Des Hommes Netherlands who will be working closely with children should be well-versed with child safeguarding. It is also important that children should be informed of their rights during such activities which include their right to withdraw as respondents and be assured that any information that they will disclose during the interview will be safe and confidential.
“Despite the limitations brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the community organisers were able to work very well with the children. They were well-oriented and well-equipped as they have informed the children of their rights regarding this study which include asking their permission first before being interviewed”, said one Terre des Hommes researcher.
With these activities, prevalence and prevention of online exploitation of children can be understood in a holistic way. By gathering information directly from children, their safety would be placed in the centre of TdH-NL programmes whether they are affected directly or indirectly.