In the Philippines, parents are sexually exploiting their children via live stream online in exchange for money.
The Guardian revealed Monday the problem is much worse than authorities initially thought it to be. One of the first of these cases was in 2011 and involved a mother who, with the help of her 13-year-old daughter, was live streaming her two children and a niece — 11, 7 and 3 years old — naked on a bed in exchange for online payments. She was caught in the act after authorities raided her home.
While sexual exploitation of children is not a new phenomenon in the Philippines, before this case, the government had no idea parents were facilitators of child pornography that featured their own children. However, the case swiftly became a window into the nefarious underbelly of impoverished parents' sexually abusing their children to earn extra cash.
The problem with the current digital setup is that it is incredibly hard to track down the perpetrators. Software and networks like Tor allow users to surf the web without a trace. Pedophiles also use encrypted live streaming and encrypted wire transfers. Furthermore, they're located all over the world. In earlier eras, it was easier to catch pedophiles red-handed with endless files of video and photographs of children. Now, the means are quite different.
Efforts by the international community to tackle this amorphous problem collaboratively have begun. The Virtual Global Taskforce and #WeProtect, an initiative by the British government, involves different stakeholders from local governments to non-governmental organizations, in an attempt to approach the issue from all sides.
Complicating the issue further is the children themselves are often complicit in the sexual exploitation. For instance, in the 2011 case the eldest daughter was helping her mother facilitate the session. In fact, the whole idea came from the children in the first place.
"They saw the neighbors making money," the prosecutor told the Guardian. "They suggested it to their parents."
Even as these cases become harder to prosecute, the question remains of who exactly should be held to account when there is enough evidence to bring a case forward. Is disbanding households — driven to such measures by poverty — the most effective way to fight this problem? Many activists and law enforcement officials find themselves querying.