Combating online sexual exploitation of children

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo July 13,2019 - 06:56 AM


Cebu finally did it: combat online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) with technology.

OSEC is an issue that strikes a personal chord in me because I knew children who are victims of it. I was a volunteer catechism teacher when I was between the ages of 11 to 18 and some of my students became victims to this heinous and deplorable crime.

Pam Uy, deputy executive director of Bidlisiw Foundation Inc., delivered the good news to me while I was on a girls’ trip with my daughter, Antoinette.

Bidlisiw is a non-government organization based in Cebu with a 20-year track record and experience as a social welfare and development agency. On the field, I have witnessed them carry out programs for neglected, abused and trafficked children. The NGO focuses on helping urban poor families including informal settlers in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue and Talisay.

Lawyer Melvin Legaspi, my co-founder in Basadours, Inc. (which started out as a volunteer-storytellers’ group and later became an NGO), introduced Ate Pam to me in one of our sessions that further opened my eyes to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Because Basadours work with and for children, Atty. Legaspi, during the early days of the group’s formation, saw the need to inform and educate our fellow storytellers and literacy advocates about UNCRC, which is a human rights treaty that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children.

Later, Atty. Legaspi drafted the Basadours’ Child Protection Policy (CPP) with Ate Pam and Bidlisiw’s guide. For seven years now, our CPP has provided us with a set of guidelines which help us create safe environments for children when we carry out events such as storytelling sessions.

From Ate Pam, I have heard several stories of courage and fighting back. There were narratives of fallen angels but there were never tales of defeat. No matter how grim the situation may be, children have a way of healing themselves.

I personally saw this reality in my previous students.

One day, they were asked to strip naked in front of a camera and let the Caucasian man from the other end see their private parts, while another person took photos of them. For these “troubles,” they were given P500 each.

My student bought a pair of short pants, a floral blouse and a sling bag using the money. My other student used it to buy a shirt that she always wanted to have, some makeup items and a diary.

The worst part was that they were brainwashed to believe that nothing is wrong with what happened because those are just pictures and nobody touched them so they were not exploited. 

Nobody told them that the photos will be in the cyberspace forever; that those photos can be reshared multiple times forever.

So when Ate Pam told me about the “Pitchfest + Hackathon” project that is aimed to combat OSEC through innovative information technology (IT) solutions, I felt that there was a reason to be happy.

In the seven years that I have known Ate Pam and the 13 years that I have followed Bidlisiw’s initiatives, I learned that the Philippines is in the list of Top 10 countries with high incidence of child pornography. Closer to home, Cebu has the notorious reputation as the province with the most number of reports on OSEC and apprehensions related to OSEC or cyberpornography.

Ate Pam said Bidlisiw’s commitment to combat OSEC in Cebu led them to create the project which involves IT schools, professionals and experts to come up with solutions to counter OSEC.

Two months ago, I was introduced to an IT graduate of the University of Cebu who created an app to manage trash. He was eventually awarded as one of the outstanding students in Central Visayas. Stories of youth creating apps to address social problems is not new to me; a gathering students and experts in one room to create IT solutions to combat OSEC is.

The pitchfest happened last June 29 with 80 participants from various IT schools. They pitched ideas and were then shortlisted to proceed to the Hackathon round, where they will come up with prototypes of their apps. The students had content experts and IT mentors, who helped develop their ideas. 

This weekend, July 13 and 14, these people are in a hotel developing apps that will provide solutions in combating OSEC from various fronts including prevention, detention and reporting.

I wish everyone a productive weekend because the success of this initiative is not only a victory among people who fight for this cause; it’s triumph over these criminals and their evil ways so they cannot exploit the innocence of our children.

Finally, we are fighting the online sexual exploitation of children on the platform that these criminals operate on.

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TAGS: Bidlisiw Foundation Inc., CDN Digital opinion, Cebu columns, columnist Cris Evert Lato Ruffolo, online sexual exploitation of children, OSEC, Pitchfest + Hackathon

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