Police rescue a child from a cyber-trafficking den in the southern Philippines. (File photo by Divina Suson)
We all love being connected to the internet, and it is a wonderful technology for communication and entertainment. Commerce and business are heavily dependent on it.
Today, the internet brings us live streaming of news, movies, songs and shows. Traditional mainstream news channels and radio are competing with web-based independently produced news streams.
Then there is the misuse of the internet to spread fake news and slanted messages to influence voters and hijack the democratic process. The use of Facebook apps to gather personal data and its questionable use by Cambridge Analytica is under investigation.
The good and useful technology of the internet is also being used for crime, robbery, exploitation and abuse. Cybercrime is a fast growing industry and billions have been lost through the hacking of bank accounts, blackmail, and fraud.
Jenny and her four teenage friends who live in a rural village not far from a big city were offered jobs in hotels and restaurants, but they ended up having to pay debts to their trafficker and were forced to perform sex acts live on the web.
They were instructed to shave off all body hair and to look even younger than their real ages of 14 and 15 years. They were victims of live-streaming child pornography. They changed and came to hate themselves.
They were mercifully rescued in a police operation and were brought to the Preda Foundation Home for Girls where they recovered and regained trust and dignity and overcame the trauma.
But thousands of minors don't get saved and their life becomes a misery of exploitation and abuse. Local and foreign customers, who view them online, travel to meet and sexually assault them.
International sex tourism is fueled and promoted by child pornography and cyber-sex shows.
The worst form of internet abuse must be the exploiter grooming youth and children on chat forums posing as a new boyfriend or girlfriend. The exploiters persuade the victims to expose themselves and perform a sex act on live camera. They then blackmail the youth by threatening to post the images on the internet.
This has led to many suicides. How many, we don't know, but the rate of youth suicides has increased dramatically in recent years.
Teenagers have to be protected, educated and warned about this kind of crime that targets them.
In a study by the World Health Organization in 90 countries, "suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among young males and the third for young females."
Of the 132,423 deaths among young people in the 90 countries, suicide accounted for 9.1 percent. According to the WHO study, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.
These are shocking statistics and abuse of the internet for crime can be the cause of the increase in suicides. These criminals cut short the lives of thousands of young people.
Another terrible crime perpetrated over the internet is child pornography. This has grown hugely and is one serious contributing cause of the growing number of children being sexually assaulted.
In the Philippines, under the anti-child pornography law, the making and/or distribution of child pornography carries up to 20 years in prison. The possession of illegal images by individuals on their computers or mobile phones carries a heavy penalty and a huge fine.
But the weak implementation of the law is a problem and child pornography is common.
The anti-child pornography law of the Philippines is a unique law because it orders that big corporations that make internet connections possible through their computers to identify, block and filter out child pornography.
However it seems that this law is not being respected and implemented. Child pornography and cyber-sex crimes in the Philippines are rampant, widespread and growing.
Thousands of children are being sexually abused and photographed and their images are sold locally and abroad.
This is the worst crime of all and the powerful allow it with impunity. We need to stand against it and work to protect children and bring the abusers and enablers to justice.
Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sexual abuse.
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