By Ma. Teresa Montemayor

CURBING EXPLOITATION. Panelists on Tuesday (Feb. 6, 2024) present initiatives and responses specific to the Asia-Pacific region on child online sexual exploitation and abuse, exploring government and civil society responses, and industry responses. Among the panelists were (from left) International Justice Mission Manila Office Director Reynaldo Bicol; Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography to the National Coordinating Council Against OSAEC and CSAEM Officer in Charge Executive Director Margarita Magsaysay; Council for the Welfare of Children Executive Director Undersecretary Angelo Tapales; and ChildFund International Asia regional director Hanneke Oudkerk. (PNA photo by Ma. Teresa P. Montemayor)

MANILA – The Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) on Tuesday warned parents and guardians against an emerging trend in child abuse and exploitation – the use of artificial intelligence (AI), which comes with child suicide as one of its “dreadful” consequences.

“Based on the information I received from the PNP (Philippine National Police) Women’s and Children’s Protection Center as of Jan. 31, 2024, there has not been any reported case of AI CSAEM (child sexual abuse or exploitation materials) or CSAM (child sexual abuse material) in the Philippines. We are sounding the alarm now because soon, it might come to our shores and by that time it might be too late,” CWC executive director Undersecretary Angelo Tapales said during the Safer Internet Day Conference in Pasig City.

Tapales noted that such AI-generated materials have already proliferated in other countries, citing a study by a non-government organization in the United Kingdom, which examined a dark website with more than 20,000 CSAEM generated by AI.

He noted that while violators of online sexual abuse or exploitation of children are driven by poverty and underdevelopment, proliferators of such materials are “new species of violators who are very intelligent and techy.”

“They have the finances to buy softwares and hardwares to create AI-generated CSAEM. These might be people who don’t have the stomach to touch children, to take nude pictures of children, but out of greed, they have the technical knowledge to create these materials,” he said.

Creating awareness, promoting responsible Internet use, and appropriate training of adults, especially parents and guardians, are the measures the CWC pushes to effectively deal with this issue.

“We must teach our parents, even those in the schools, the guidance counselors, the teachers, and school administrators, to be responsible Internet citizens, so that they can, in turn, teach students, teach their kids how to identify dubious sites, how to classify if a particular content is harmful, not age-appropriate, and not to chat with strangers,” Tapales said.

He also advised parents not to “unnecessarily” post pictures of their children online.

OSAEC cases in PH 

In the recent Scale of Harm report by the International Justice Mission (IJM), researchers found that nearly half a million Filipino children were trafficked online via live streaming in 2022.

The study added that these activities are often carried out by the children’s relatives or people they know to produce sexual exploitation materials.

The IJM noted that this crisis is embedded in complex social structures where in some cases the mothers were involved in the perpetration.

Tapales cited that more than 17,600 reported cases of child rights violations were recorded in 2023 based on data from the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children’s Protection Center. 

“A great portion of these reported cases are also online violations of our new anti-OSAEC (online sexual abuse and exploitation of children) and CSAEC Act. According to the PNP by November 2023, more than 1,000 victims have been reported to them and more than 300 perpetrators are now being prosecuted by our Department of Justice (DOJ),” he said.

He also cited data from PLDT and Smart that showed that the companies have blocked 902,000 URLs or websites where child sexual abuse and exploitation materials were present in 2023.

“Last year, they have blocked 2.16 million access attempts in these websites and since they launched their child protection program in 2021, have blocked 1.7 billion access attempts to these websites or child sexual abuse and exploitation materials,” he added.

In July 2022, the OSAEC and CSAEM were enacted to combat the dangers posed by the development of the worldwide web against Filipino children.

“We’re confident that this particular piece of legislation will cast a broad net, and we’ll be able to prosecute more people compared to our older laws in the sense that it covers all types of OSAEC and even contemplated AI, OSAEC and CSAEM. It also covered Internet-based sexual abuse, which covers sextortion scams and those created by AI,” Tapales said.

He added that the DOJ, prosecutors, and courts would not honor affidavits of desistance where the child or the child’s family withdraws the case for whatever reason.

Safer Internet day

The ChildFund Alliance conducted the Safer Internet Day Conference in recognition of the importance of online safety.

“It’s a threat ChildFund Alliance committed to tackling when we launched our online children’s safety initiative, WEB Safe & Wise, in May 2022. We knew then, and we know even more now, that digital connectivity exposes children to a wide range of grave threats to their safety and wellbeing online,” ChildFund Alliance’s Board of Directors Chair Simon Whyte said.

He added that their campaign seeks to ensure that children and young people are protected, safe, and supported in the digital world, and that children and young people are effective digital citizens who are equipped to safely, ethically, and responsibly participate online as part of their healthy development.

Global experts in online safety and child rights, members of ChildFund’s Children Advisory Council, government officials, community leaders, and members of relevant organizations shared their thoughts and offered solutions that would enable every child to engage and connect safely online. 

For more than 80 years, Child Fund Alliance’s global network of 11 child-focused development and humanitarian organizations has reached nearly 36 million children and families in 70 countries to ensure all children can enjoy their rights and advance their well-being. (PNA)