Online child porn transactions surge amid COVID-19 lockdown

online child porn transactions surge amid covid 19 lockdown - Online child porn transactions surge amid COVID-19 lockdown

SEXUAL offenders have exploited the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, leading to a surge in online child pornography transactions during the lockdown, according to a study by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

The agency recorded 5,902 child pornography-related online transactions from March 15 to May 15, compared with just 369 transactions a year earlier, it said in a report posted on its website.

Online child pornography is “one of the progressing transnational issues which is affecting the domestic populace and which has further worsened because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” AMLC said in the report.

The estimated value of transactions involving so-called online sex exploitation of children rose nine times from a year earlier, it said.

The council’s report validates findings by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) that called the Philippines the “global epicenter of livesteam sexual abuse trade of children.”

The AMLC found that 81% of online child pornography-related transactions in the past three years ranged from P1,000 to P10,000.

Nearly half of the transactions at the height of the lockdown ranged from P1,000 to P3,000 while 44% ranged from P3,000 to P10,000, it said.

In a simple modus operandi of an online child pornography case, the offender, usually male, remitted money worth as much as $200 from another country to multiple non-familial counterparties in the country, AMLC said.

It added that 60% of the transactions had been carried out through money service businesses, while 35% went through banks.

Offenders preferred to pay the deal through money service businesses because remote rural areas have access to them, the agency said. Criminals also tended to avoid bank precautions such as know-your-customer rules.

The council said access to technology has made it easier for online sex offenders to prey on Filipino children.

“The  availability  of internet connection in the country partnered with the imposition  of community quarantine had led children to spend more time surfing the internet,” it said. “This prompted online sexual  predators to take advantage of the situation and exploit more children.”

The economic strain suffered by most families during the lockdown have also made these families vulnerable to online sexual offenders, AMLC said.

“The  loss  of  income, restricted movement of children, isolation, increased exposure to online platforms and the high level of stress and anxiety contributed to the increase in the likelihood of children being exploited  online,” it added.

Children who experience sexual abuse are more likely to become socially isolated, suffer from mental health problems and attempt and commit suicide, according to the report.

They are also more likely to be addicted to alcohol and drugs, it said. “These outcomes impact every aspect of a child’s life, including a higher likelihood to perpetuate a cycle of  violence  onto  the  next  generation.”

Online child pornography poses a risk to money laundering given the illegal proceeds involved and limited enforcement actions, AMLC said.

It is a global issue that requires a universal response, and various sectors must work together to combat it, it added.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) this month sought a tougher response against human trafficking.

In a statement, CHR spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said human trafficking is a form of modern slavery, including the exploitation of both adults and children of all sexes and genders in exchange for labor and sex, among other things.

Throughout the Philippines and around the world, human trafficking tears communities apart, fuels criminal activity and threatens the country’s national security, she said.

She cited the need to strengthen a local anti-trafficking law by providing standards and guidelines on surveillance, interception, investigation and prosecution offenders.

She said quarantined online sex offenders were spending more time online, and vulnerable women and children are also confined at home, often with their traffickers. — Luz Wendy T. Noble

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