IN LESS than a month, six persons across the Philippines were convicted for trafficking offenses, specifically for engaging in online sexual exploitation of children.

Separately entering into a plea agreement, each was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment for offenses under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law and a few additional years for violations under Anti-Child Abuse Law and Anti-Child Pornography Law.

Each of them was ordered to pay a fine of P500,000. Five of the convicted traffickers were also ordered to pay civil liabilities ranging from P50,000 to P100,000 for every complainant.

Three of the convictions -- involving one male and two female traffickers happened in Ozamis City, in separate promulgations on April 19 and April 25, 2022.

Another female trafficker was convicted in Lapu-Lapu City on May 12, 2022, while two other female traffickers were convicted in separate cases in Capas, Tarlac on May 16, 2022.

In the Lapu-Lapu conviction, Prosecutor James Lobedica said: “Let this conviction send a strong message that crime does not pay. Perpetrators will at some point have to face the consequences of their crime. Rule of law dictates that they should be penalized.”

Central Visayas Prosecutor Fernando Gubalane said: “This conviction (in Lapu-Lapu) by plea bargaining is not just to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes but also a tool to prevent children who have already been abused from a possibility of being retraumatized by the rigors of trial.”

Lawyer Lucille Dejito, director of International Justice Mission (IJM) Cebu Program Office, added: “These recent convictions in Visayas and Mindanao are a testament to the relentless work and commitment of our duty bearers in law enforcement, prosecution, and judiciary to ensure that violence against children will not thrive with impunity. We hope that these convictions and stiff penalties will serve as strong deterrence for traffickers who are exploiting children online.”

Speaking about the Capas, Tarlac convictions, lawyer Reynaldo Bicol Jr., director of IJM Manila Program Office, said: “IJM applauds our persevering justice system partners for securing two more convictions, sending a clear message that perpetrators of online sexual exploitation of children cannot get away with this crime. IJM continues to advocate for plea bargaining as a child-protective measure. With plea bargaining, months of protracted legal proceedings are shortened, and serving our children swifter justice.”

In online sexual exploitation of children, children are sexually abused by traffickers who then spread or sell images or videos of the exploitation online -- even livestreaming the abuse for sex offenders to direct from anywhere in the world.

Local perpetrators are typically charged with violations under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 (Republic Act 9208 as amended by Republic Act 10364), the Anti‐Child Pornography Act of 2009 (Republic Act 9775), the Anti-Child Abuse Law (Republic Act 7610), and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10175). (PR)