Poverty in the Philippines affects many families. It makes millions of children vulnerable, especially those who spend a lot of time on the Internet, because they can easily be seduced into the most horrible acts in exchange for money. This is why 1 in 5 children face online sexual exploitation. So did John, who did not realize he had made the wrong friends. He received one dishonorable proposal after another and didn't know what to do.
As a small child, John lived with his grandmother in one of the poorest parts of the city of Mandaue. This slum is home to people who cannot get better housing due to a lack of money or housing shortage. His grandmother was a street sweeper, but she had grown too old to do this physically demanding work - so John took over for her.
'I took over my grandmother's job so we had money to buy food. Every night I had to get up as early as 3 a.m. to sweep the city streets. That was hard and I was often very tired. But I was able to go to school thanks to this work and the money. I really wanted to be able to do that.
No matter how tired I was from the long days, I didn't want to skip school. I didn't want to miss classes. And I felt safe at school. Very different from how I felt on the streets. Unfortunately, I didn't earn much because the pay of a street sweeper is low. As a result, we had too little to eat.'
John got in touch with people from abroad through friends online. These turned out to be people with no good intentions. At first, John could really enjoy the attention he received. What he did not know was that he had unwittingly entered the deceptive online world of sexual exploitation. Like many other children in the Philippines, he is an easy victim for those who want to harm children. Looking back on this period, John says, 'I was actually always sad during that period. I felt very alone.'
'One day I met Jonas and we struck up a conversation. He turned out to be one of 'us': he understood what I had to deal with. From then on, I went to trainings every week, where I learned how to protect myself. But not only that: my grandparents also got help so they could find work that they could do and that wasn't too hard. I now study Marketing Management and work as a copywriter.'
The number of Filipino children that are sexually exploited online has tripled in the past 3 years and continues to grow rapidly. For example, children are forced into sexual acts through social media. They are unaware of the online dangers beforehand or have to earn their money this way due to poverty. This traumatic experience can lead to developmental problems, negative self-image, depression and even suicide.
Terre des Hommes protects vulnerable children so they can develop in a safe environment. With our new action plan, we want to prevent online sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines.