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Church must act over online child sex abuse

Covid-19 lockdowns and unemployment have brought an increase in this terrible scourge across Asia

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Church must act over online child sex abuse

The coronavirus pandemic means that sexual predators have more time on their hands. (Photo: Pixabay)

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Widespread lockdowns and unemployment triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic have led to a surge in online child sex abuse across Asia that most governments are ill-equipped to stop.

The significantly changed situation in most countries has predators either working from home or unemployed and therefore with more time on their hands.

Children are forced to participate in either sexual acts or bare their bodies for online consumption, often at home with schools shuttered in many countries.

And this brings us to perhaps the saddest part of this tragic story, as Father Shay Cullen recently pointed out in a piece on the online child sex abuse tragedy in the Philippines — it is the parents and relatives of these children who are the perpetrators of this vile trade.

While the global internet revolution has provided communications to all corners of globe, one of the major downsides of the proliferation of cheap, high-speed internet and surging smartphone ownership is the rise in cybersex crimes.

Children across developing Asia have been particularly vulnerable due to the willingness of families short on cash to exploit the children in their care.

This alarming trend was already growing fast before Covid-19 and the lockdowns occurred.

Andrew Perkins, a senior officer in the Australian Federal Police operating in the Philippines, told Guardian Australia last December that there was an “alarming shift” from previously more common types of “sex tourism” to “convenient and low-risk” online abuse of children.

“It includes the development of live online sexual abuse in pay-per-view. Online child sexual exploitation is one of the most alarming forms of human trafficking in the Philippines,” Perkins said.

Online child sex has become the increasing focus of police forces in the region in recent years and recent statistics from the Thai police underscore the urgency of the situation.

The Thai police force’s Internet Crimes Against Children (TICAC) task force at the end of May said it had rescued more than 100 children in the past two months; in the same period last year the number was 53 victims helped.  And since mid-April, TICAC has recovered more than 150,000 computer files of child sexual abuse material, opening 53 cases. In 2019, they had 72 cases involving 46 victims.

“TICAC has investigated more than 280 cases of internet-facilitated child sexual exploitation since 2016, of which 81 are related to human trafficking; the rest are related to sexual abuse and pornography,” an investigation by the Thompson Reuters Foundation revealed.

On June 19, the Internet Watch Foundation, a UK charity dedicated to finding and removing online child pornography, launched a dedicated portal for Indonesians to report videos or images of child sexual abuse they see on the internet so that they can be safely assessed and removed by trained analysts.

“Indonesians are being urged to report online videos and images of children being sexually abused as a new online tool gives people a safe way to report amid heightened ‘urgency’ during the coronavirus pandemic,” IWF said.

The issue is a very delicate one for the Church. According to Matthew 19:14, "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'"

The Church should ordinarily be at the forefront in helping to educate families and children and to speak out against such abuses. But most churches in Asia (with a few honorable exceptions such as Japan and Myanmar) have been incredibly reticent about dealing with the problem of child sex abuse within their own ranks, by both priests and laymen.

While these issues are not spoken about, there is usually widespread community knowledge about their perpetration and, as such, pronouncements by the Church — such as the recent one by the Philippine bishops' conference — while worthy enough, will be seen as hypocritical.

Perhaps one way that churches can get around this is to funnel what are sometimes considerable charitable resources into the substantial number of trusted non-church organizations which are addressing these issues.

The ideal solution, of course, would be for the Church across the region to take ownership of these issues and make the difficult but righteous decision to come to a self-reckoning.

If that happens, they will then have clean hands to deal with the terrible scourge of child sex abuse that is now proliferating online.

In the meantime, it is up to regular Catholics to remain vigilant, keeping a keen eye out for any suspicious behavior in their communities and families.

Don’t think for one minute that it couldn’t happen here — that is what the perpetrators of child sex abuse are banking on you thinking. And all the evidence says it certainly can and may well be.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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