THE International Justice Mission (IJM), an international organization that protects people in poverty from violence, lauded five “trailblazing local governments” in the country for their local legislation against online sexual exploitation of children (Osec).

The local government units (LGUs) are San Fernando City, Himamaylan City, Angeles City, Butuan City, and the Third District of Laguna.

“Legislation is the key to child protection,” said lawyer Nelisa Guevara-Garcia, director of National Prosecution Development at IJM Philippines.

The organization helped to establish the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Children Center, where it has worked alongside local, British and Australian police since 2019.

“The mushroom effect that this will have on the fight against child abusers cannot be overstated. The local legislators who took this swift action should be commended – and thankfully there is more to come,” the lawyer added.

IJM maintained the five LGUs “have emerged as champions in the fight against online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the Philippines, laying the legal foundations for authorities in their districts to launch a ground-up response to one of the world’s most heinous and hidden crimes.”

“We are glad to note that we have the framework to prevent this crime from happening, and also to ensure that the victims, should there be any, are well taken care of,” added Vice Mayor Justin Silos Gatuslao, pioneer of the blueprint for Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental.

At least 10 more cities across the country are also drafting ordinances “that will kickstart the creation of new infrastructure to support law enforcement and child protection efforts.

The local ordinances include the establishment of local councils to combat online sexual abuse of children and training of law enforcement officials, social workers and community leaders in detecting and suppressing online child abuse, including trauma-informed care techniques for frontline responders, according to IJM.

“At all times, the victim must be protected. The new ordinances will allow for police and social workers in those jurisdictions to receive the best advice on how to protect children during rescues, investigations, prosecutions and in aftercare,” Guevara-Garcia said.

According to the IJM official, the latest expansion of the Philippines’ framework to combat Osec “coincides with an international awakening to the crime, which emerged over the past decade and was fueled by lockdowns during the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.”

In August 2022, the Philippines government declared “war” on online child sexual abuse.

“There is a groundswell of support for this fight, but we must continue to spread deterrence of this crime. We now have the methodology to measure the prevalence of online sexual exploitation of children that previously was not available,” said lawyer Samson Inocencio, Jr., national director and regional vice president of IJM Program Against Online Sexual Exploitation of Children.

“This was made possible through a remarkable group of advisers from the Philippine government and global stakeholders, including the world-leading research team from Nottingham Rights Lab,” he added.

Prevalence of Osec

The Philippines has remained a global hotspot for online sexual abuse of children.

In November, a British court handed down a 25-year sentence to a man who had paid to watch the abuse of Filipino children as young as two years old.

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner has been campaigning for tech giants to take responsibility for crimes organized and paid for on their platforms, according to IJM.

Earlier this year, IJM published the Vidi (Video In-Depth Disclosure Interview) guidebook, on how to sensitively conduct and record a victim statement that is all-encompassing and admissible in court, shielding victims from rounds of interviews and the risk of re-traumatization.

“Our 21 years of work in the Philippines led to a dramatic decrease in the prevalence of sex trafficking of children in bars and brothels—reductions ranging from 72 percent-86 percent in the cities where we partnered with local authorities,” IJM said in a statement.

Beginning in 2016, IJM has fully transitioned its program in the Philippines to combat online sexual exploitation of children, in particular, the trafficking of children to create new child sexual abuse materials, including via livestreaming.

The group has assisted Philippine authorities in more than 272 operations, leading to the rescue of 1,008 victims and the arrest of 313 suspects of Osec, with the first case dating back to 2011. (SunStar Philippines)