By Robin Gomes
These human traffickers and sexual predators are “a more dangerous and extremely deadly virus lurking around us aside from Covid-19.”
The warning comes from Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, Vice Chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People (ECMI) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
“They prey on our young people who are restricted to their homes due to coronavirus lockdowns,” the bishop said in a statement. “They take advantage of the situation, with our youth who are preoccupied with the internet at home. These predators are heartless, motivated by insatiable greed and addiction to their craving of flesh trades,” Bishop Santos said, speaking on behalf of the Church in the country.
Preying on poverty
The alert comes following reports that online child sex abuse has more than tripled in the Philippines during the coronavirus pandemic as poor families try to make easy money during hard times.
Bishop Santos described these predators as “the viruses of our society who use physical vulnerability and poverty to lure and victimize our people”.
“These are human traffickers and sexual offenders, the worst and most venomous virus on earth, taking every opportunity to target our youth and even young children who are bored at home and have nothing to do but navigate the internet,” the bishop said.
The Philippine Department of Justice said on May 25, it received 279,166 cyber tips from March to May 2020, compared to 76,561 cyber tips over the same period in 2019.
Authorities believe poverty, job loss and extreme difficulty in feeding families are reasons why parents are increasingly selling their children online.
Surge in online sexual abuse
On May 30, police arrested a 35-year-old mother in Manila’s Caloocan City for selling livestream feeds of the sexual abuse of her minor children on an adult website for about USD 100-200.
Police inspector Aldrin Marcelo told UCA News that parents or relatives engage in this kind of abuse believing it is not harmful to their children as there is no physical contact between them and the predator.
Social worker Amanda Grajo explained that many of those who sell images of their children online live below the poverty line. “Maybe they really have no choice but to do this to their children. They need money to eat.”
Bishops vow to fight the scourge
The Philippine bishops are urging families to be vigilant about the online habits of their children to prevent them from being unwilling victims.
Bishop Santos suggested a few ways that parents can take action such as by limiting their childrens' use of their devices, being physically present with them or engaging them in conversations about their friends or what they are undergoing. At home, parents can also help their children develop their talents such as in baking, painting or making designs, or introducing them to their own childhood games, such as dama, chess or sungka.
Reiterating the Philippine bishops’ commitment to protecting children, Bishop Santos said that the Church as “a mother speaks and stands for her children, especially for the vulnerable and voiceless children.”
“She must see to it that they are truly safe at home,” he said, adding, “We will never end up victims but victors over the viruses of trafficking and online sexual exploitation.”