3 mothers from Lapu-Lapu City plead guilty to online trafficking charges
LAPU-LAPU CITY, Cebu – For livestreaming the sexual abuse of children in exchange for money, three women were sentenced to several years in prison and ordered to pay hefty damages.
Lapu-Lapu City Regional Trial Court Branch 70 Judge Christine Muga-Abad rendered her judgment on Wednesday, February 19, after the online traffickers pleaded guilty to multiple trafficking charges filed against them under plea bargain agreements, said a statement released by the International Justice Mission (IJM).
Melanie (real name withheld), 22, was sentenced to 23 years in prison and ordered to pay P600,000 in moral and exemplary damages. She was arrested on March 26, 2018 in Lapu-Lapu City for trafficking four minors into online sexual exploitation, including her young daughter, who was only four years old at the time of her rescue.
Maricel (real name withheld), 36, and Jennifer (real name withheld), 27, were sentenced to 37 years and 23 years of imprisonment, respectively. Both were also ordered to pay P600,000 each.
The IJM advisory said that the two mothers were arrested during simultaneous police operations in Lapu-Lapu City on April 26, 2016. Authorities rescued Maricel’s three children and Jennifer’s two children, including one who was only three-months-old then.
The operations were spearheaded by the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center – Visayas Field Unit in coordination with the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) 7, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) 7, the Regional Anti-Cybercrime Group 7, the Lapu-Lapu City Police Office, and International Justice Mission (IJM).
In plea bargaining agreements, defendants plead guilty not to the original charges, but to other similar offenses. This protects the child victims from having to testify in court against the perpetrators who are often family members or neighbors, which can be traumatizing, the IJM statement said.
The three online traffickers committed violations under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (R.A. 9208 as amended by R.A. 10364), Anti-Child Pornography Act (R.A. 9775), Cybercrime Prevention Act (R.A. 10175), and Anti-Child Abuse Law (R.A. 7610).
“Every child has the right to live in a safe environment. Pursuant to it is the government’s relentless efforts and the valuable assistance of organizations such as IJM towards the protection of our children,” said Public Prosecutor Antonio Aseniero.
IJM Cebu Field Office Director John Tanagho said: “Today’s convictions of three traffickers for live-streaming child sexual abuse sends a clear message that the Philippine Government and the rule of law are on the side of vulnerable children. Holding perpetrators accountable honors the survivors, whose privacy was violated when their sexual abuse was broadcast to strangers around the world using live-streaming platforms and apps.”
So far in IJM-supported cases, more than 80 persons have been convicted in the Philippines for OSEC since 2011. IJM has supported Philippine law enforcement agencies in operations that led to the arrest of more than 200 OSEC perpetrators and the rescue of almost 600 victims and children-at-risk across the country.
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