3-M calls reporting child sex trafficking during pandemic in PHL

MORE than three million calls of cybercrime tips related to child sexual exploitation. A total of 2,787 human trafficking victims recorded by government and non-government organizations. Around 13,000 Filipino passengers offloaded from flights. Only 56 human traffickers prosecuted and convicted.

Despite the rampant cases of human trafficking and sex trafficking in 2021, the Philippines retained its Tier 1 ranking by the US State Department in the 2022 Trafficking in Persons report in recognition of government efforts to eliminate human trafficking. 

This is the seventh year the Philippines got the highest ranking which makes it eligible for economic and security assistance from the US. 

“The 2022 Trafficking in Persons Report is an acknowledgment of the whole-of-government approach by the DFA and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) in their pursuit to proactively prevent trafficking in persons,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

Among the Southeast Asian countries, only the Philippines and Singapore are included in this year’s Tier 1 ranking.

The US State Department, mandated under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) to submit to the US Congress annual reports on human trafficking in 187 countries, said the Tier 1 ranking “does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the crime.”

“Rather, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has made efforts to address the problem that meet the TVPA’s minimum standards. To maintain a Tier 1 ranking, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress each year in combating trafficking. Tier 1 represents a responsibility rather than a reprieve,” the State Department explained.

The US said the Philippine government continued to show “serious and sustained efforts” considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that affected its anti-trafficking campaign.

“These efforts included identifying more victims than in 2020, drafting standard operating procedures (SOPs) on the identification and monitoring of trafficking-related corruption cases, sentencing nearly all traffickers to significant prison terms, and creating an executive-level Department of Migrant Workers,” the US said.

In its country report, the US report said that in 2021 alone, the Department of Justice Office of Cybercrime received an “extremely high volume of cybercrime tips” totaling more than 3 million which are “related to child sexual exploitation.”

It cited reports of a nearly 265-percent increase in “unconfirmed reports of online child sexual abuse” during the pandemic. 

“Law enforcement information indicates that the Philippines is one of the largest known sources of online sexual exploitation of children, in which traffickers sexually exploit children, individually and in groups, in live internet broadcasts in exchange for compensation wired through a money transfer agency by individuals most often in another country, including the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom,” it said.

Parents or close relatives who operate in private residences or small cyber cafes, are usual traffickers and their child victims, girls and boys, are younger than 12 years. 

“Economic impacts of the pandemic, combined with an increased amount of time children spent at home, resulted in an increasing number of families forcing their children into online sexual exploitation,” it explained.

With the pandemic, child sex trafficking victims declined in commercial establishments in urban areas last year, but it is still a “pervasive problem, typically abetted by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations.”

Identified hotspots for this form of sex trafficking in Luzon and Visayas include Iligan, Lapu-Lapu, Pampanga, Quezon City, Malabon, Pasig, Taguig, and Caloocan. 

Citizens of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States are convicted or charged sex offenders or pedophiles in their home countries. Lately, there is an increasing number of reports of sex crimes being prosecuted from Canada, Morocco, Iraq, and Denmark as well.

When Chinese workers were hired in offshore gaming operations in the Philippines, Chinese and other Asian women were also exploited in commercial sex in locations near the POGO sites. “However, in 2020 the pandemic resulted in a massive departure of PRC nationals employed in offshore gaming operations, resulting in decreased reports of sex trafficking among this community,” it added.

The US State Department said that while Manila meets the minimum standards in combating human trafficking, it failed to “arrest individuals suspected of purchasing commercial sex from trafficking victims.”

“NGOs reported that police did not take sufficient steps to investigate and arrest purchasers of commercial sex, including foreign sex tourists and those who purchased commercial sex acts from trafficking victims, and often did not question customers who were present during operations in entertainment establishments,” it added.

Manila also “did not report vigorously” investigating labor trafficking crimes that occurred within the Philippines as well as failed to provide training for labor inspectors on indicators of human trafficking.” 

“The government prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers, and it did not report holding accountable officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking crimes,” added.

Nonetheless, the US State Department made special mention on the Philippine and United Kingdom’s efforts to consult survivor leaders to provide input on their anti-trafficking practices. It said the IACAT conducted “virtual focus group discussions” with trafficking survivors to get feedback on their protection services, case management and problems encountered on their services. 

The Philippine government also created a single technology platform called the Integrated Case Management System, which several government agencies used for interagency coordination in assisting Filipino trafficking victims and to prosecute their traffickers. Victim-witness coordinators supported more victims who are testifying in courts against predators and the government increased funding to the interagency anti-trafficking council.

“This recognition encourages us to continue our engagement and cooperation with all stakeholders, including the U.S. Government, towards our common advocacy of eradicating human trafficking,” Justice Secretary and IACAT Chairperson Jesus Crispin Remulla said in a separate statement.