“Continue making a stand against child exploitation, no step is big or small as long as you keep it real and moving”, said Shannen, a youth advocate from Cebu, Philippines. "Padayon" is a Filipino term in Bisaya which means "to continue". This word is used not only for common correspondence among Filipinos but also serves as a motto among a new generation of youth advocates.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that it followed, there was a dramatic rise in Online Child Sexual Exploitation (OCSE) cases. Predators turned to cyberspace in order to victimise children. The economic hardship had compelled many Filipino families to participate in OCSE in order to survive the pandemic. The province of Cebu is the sex trafficking hotspot in the Philippines and it also has rising cases of OCSE, which have been mostly unreported.
However, one fact is maintained - it continues to be a great threat to the overall well-being of children and youth in communities.
Despite their vulnerability, children and youth can counteract the risk of becoming victims by participating and becoming active youth advocates in preventing OCSE. Shannen and Diane are youth scholars under the Terre des Hommes Netherlands Youth Scholarship Programme, who have become active youth advocates in their respective communities.
The programme offers economic support for under-resourced people (including some who have experienced trauma) to empower them into a strong and dependable workforce. There were 13 youth scholars that were selected from six different areas in Cebu Province. These advocates will have a key role in the prevention and response to online exploitation of children.
One of the major components of the programme is ensuring that communities will learn and report cases of online abuse. In the City of Talisay, Shannen and Diane, had an active role in awareness raising activities. Shannen said, “I have realised that OCSE or any kind of abuse against children is everywhere. Just because there are no reported cases in a certain place, it doesn’t mean that there is none since some witnesses could be paid and given incentives by the perpetrator. Also, the effect of these abuses would be hunting children forever especially if they are not guided. That’s why all different members of the community should work hand in hand to address this situation.”
Despite the existing restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Shannen and Diane continued teaching children and youth on how to protect themselves from online sexual exploitation in a series of events. This includes practising online safety, respecting the guidance of parents in their online use; being mindful of their presence on social media, and setting boundaries in using technology. With the support of the local government of Talisay through its Pag-Asa Youth Association of the Philippines (PYAP) organisation and Mercy in Action, the two young advocates were able to reach a total 2,413 children and youth from the different communities.
“I have learned that awareness is key and so is knowledge, as giving awareness without the aid of knowledge would not be effective. It is important that awareness should be aided with information relevant to the topic and also involving the people of concern. Awareness raising with children and youth enables the people of the community to stay informed and vigilant”, Diane added.
The peer-to-peer facilitation approach of Terre des Hommes Netherlands for youth advocates was the main driver of success awareness raising in different communities. This raises the confidence of many participants and the youth facilitators in discussing important issues to other people. This also creates a safe environment for children and youth which leads to more appreciation on the prevention and response to Online Child Sexual Exploitation in communities.