CEBU CITY, Philippines – A ring focused on the abuse of children in the Philippines via webcams was recently unearthed by a BBC investigation. Using children as puppets and taking money to drive these sexual shows has shown a very dark part of the internet. Charities call this practice “easy money,” identifying the slum Ibabeo, near Cebu City, in the south of country, as the “epicenter” of the trade.
An undercover team, accompanied by arm guards, located some of the houses in which the acts were taking place. These houses were often empty, with only a dirty mattress on the floor. They call this a “cybersex den.”
The children, often encouraged by their parents in the hopes of gaining a profit, were forced to perform for the foreigner on the webcams. While neighbors quickly displayed shock and horror, it was soon discovered that 80 houses in the area were actually directly involved in the trade.
While some claim that because these foreign observers are not directly touching the children and therefore should not be held accountable, Noemi Truya-Abarientos, who works for the Children’s Legal Bureau, sates that this a myth and that clients “give intructions to touch this and that.”
“They even send sex toys to these children.” Shows often cost less than $20 US. The demand for child “shows” is growing, and the Philippine government estimates that between 60,000 and 100,000 children are victims of the sexual exploit.
Access to high-speed Internet and the existence of a wealthy overseas customer base has led to exploiting children for fiscal gains. The Philippine’s investigation began in 2012 and involved the collaboration of British, Australian, and U.S. governments.
Operations have resulted in 29 arrests in countries, with five of the 17 suspects being convicted in the U.K. Suspects were apprehended in Australia, the U.S., France, Germany, Hong Kong, Sweden and Norway, amongst others. Payments totaling over $60,000 U.S. were uncovered by the investigation.
The investigation started after a registered sex offender in Northamptonshire was undergoing a routine visit. Hundred of thousands of images and videos, depicting online child sexual exploitation of victims, were found.
“This investigation has identified some extremely dangerous child sexual offenders who believed paying for children to be abused to order was something they could get away with,” exclaimed Andy Baker, the deputy director Britain’s National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.
After tracing the origins of the videos, the Britons involved the Philippine National Police and moved to shut down the source of the child exploitation.
“Being thousands of miles away makes no difference to their guilt. In my mind they are just as responsible for the abuse of these children as the contact abusers overseas,” Baker stated.
Australian police have released a statement saying that “15 children had been identified as victims and removed from harm.” Some of the facilitators of the abuse were even members of the children’s own families.
In November of 2013, over 1,000 men were caught trying to pay a computer-generated child to perform sex acts online carried out by Terre des Hommes. The 10-week operation took place in Amsterdam. They posed in video chat rooms as “Sweetie,” a 10-year-old Filipina girl.
Of the more than 20,000 men who contacted Sweetie, over 1,000 offered her money. Of the 1,000 men who offered to pay Sweetie to take off her clothes, 254 were from the U.S., 110 from the U.K., and 103 were from India.
In order to make connections between the suspects, researchers used Skype profiles and other social media outlets. The project director, Hans Guyt, told a news conference in The Hague that these new types of crimes forced them to use “a new way of policing.”
“The predator won’t come forward.” He said, “the victim won’t come forward.”
Their ultimate goal is to stop “webcam sex tourism.” And while Sweetie has been retired, their approach to tackling international predators has been taken up by authorities around the world.
The charity has handed over their findings to the police and will offer the authorities the technology it developed.
Terre des Hommes organization is a project based on improving the living conditions of children and protecting their rights in their own environment, which involves the families and their communities. They then work to bring the toils and the rights of the child to global attention, including the issue of child prostitution.
Their issues focus on protecting children against violence, meeting children’s essential needs and rights, and supporting the general development of children. These projects focus on areas with natural disasters and armed conflicts specifically.
– Chloe Nevitt