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IJM outlines steps to uphold child protection during pandemic

AFTER analyzing collaborative casework practices on online sexual exploitation of children and relevant policies applied during the Covid-19 pandemic, International Justice Mission (IJM) has laid out recommendations for child protection in the “new normal.”

On Monday, July 26, IJM released its research report, “Child Protection Efforts in the Time of Covid-19: Understanding Effective Casework Practices and Policy Wins during the Pandemic.” Among other conclusions, the report noted the trauma-informed behavior displayed by government frontliners in the fight against livestreamed child sexual exploitation; and the increased use of electronic inquest, remote testimony, and videoconferencing hearings.

Aside from strict adherence to health and safety protocols during rescue operations, the 57-page report outlined recommendations related to policy, training, technology, law enforcement, prosecution, and aftercare.

Below are some of the paper’s key recommendations:

* Extend the availability of electronic inquest to all areas of the Philippines, applicable even after the pandemic.

* Pilot test remote testimony facilities to maximize the Supreme Court Guidelines on Videoconferencing.

* Rely on victim testimony-independent evidence (such as chatlogs, and other digital evidence, etc.) in case build up.

* Continue the good practice of law enforcement and aftercare coordination.

* Support and optimize training events that increase opportunities for immediate application.

“We at IJM commend our partners from the Philippine government – law enforcers, aftercare service providers, prosecutors and other frontliners of the criminal justice system – for persevering in their child protection mandate amidst the risks and challenges posed by the pandemic,” said lawyer Lawrence Aritao, director of IJM Philippines’ National Prosecution Development and one of the paper’s principal authors.

“The Supreme Court’s issuance of the videoconferencing guidelines also played a vital role in ensuring that justice is upheld for victims of online sexual exploitation amidst the global health crisis. As we continue to support our government partners in the fight to end online sexual exploitation of children, IJM is pleased to document mutual learnings and best practices drawn from our collaborative work. We encourage wider adoption of these practices to uphold the best interest of the child during the pandemic and beyond,” he added.

The Philippine Department of Justice Undersecretary Emmeline Aglipay Villar, undersecretary in-charge of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, said: “With the health crisis still present and with no clear end in sight, a new range of challenges has arisen, adding new layers of concerns to the current child protection efforts being implemented in the country. As we are gradually learning the ramifications brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, one thing remains clear: that our work of bringing justice to victim-survivors of online sexual exploitation of children (Osec) and trafficking will not stop. Ensuring that child protection efforts remain unimpeded entails a range of responses that encompasses the entire criminal justice system. As this paper has outlined, effective casework must be anchored by sound policies issued by relevant Philippine authorities.”

Available on IJM website osec.IJM.org, the research report examined 23 rescue-related case studies and reviewed relevant policies created and issued by the Philippine government.

During the lockdown period in 2020, Philippine justice agencies and child protection stakeholders rescued at least 136 victims, apprehended 30 suspects, and obtained 18 convictions (five of which were achieved via videoconferencing hearings).

In May 2020, IJM also released a global study that confirmed the Philippines as both a global hotspot for online sexual exploitation of children and a frontrunner in the fight against it. The pandemic appeared to have created a surge of this crime, with the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) recording a 28 percent increase in the number of images, videos and other files related to child sexual exploitation reported to its CyberTipline – from nearly 17 million reports in 2019 to 21.8 million in 2020. (PR)


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