MANILA — Philippine authorities rescued 40 victims of online sexual exploitation over the course of the two and a half months of lockdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, police said on Tuesday.
The Philippines is a global hotspot for cybersex trafficking, where the exploitation of children is live-streamed remotely. It is often a family-based crime and largely economically motivated, in a country where a fifth of the population is below the poverty line.
Millions of Filipinos were projected to have lost their jobs since a strict lockdown to curb the spread of covid-19 began in mid-March. The accessibility of the Internet and the continued operation of remittance payment centers under quarantine are also contributing factors.
Experts say that families involved the crime do not necessarily view online exploitation as abuse. Many cases still go unreported due to community dynamics, as neighbors may indirectly benefit through gifts and loans.
In one case uncovered this week, payment for the online abuse of a child went as low as $8 — one of the cheapest rates authorities have seen, said Sheila Portento, who heads the anti-trafficking division of the Philippine National Police Women and Children Protection Center.
Seven suspects were arrested over 12 operations, conducted jointly by police and National Bureau of Investigation agents. Most of the clients hail from the United States, Portento added.
Last week, a Philippine court sentenced an American, David Timothy Deakin, to life imprisonment for sexually exploiting Filipino children online.
Police said the 12 operations are not out of the ordinary, but authorities and experts agree that children face more risk under quarantine.
Authorities were also monitoring three Philippines-based Facebook pages engaged in child pornography. Portento said the pages have since been taken down, and a request to disclose the computer data for their origin is pending.