We all love being connected to the internet and it is a wonderful technology for communicating, providing information and entertainment and keeping people connected. Commerce and business is totally dependent on it what with e-mail, conferencing, communication, document transmission in which it is essential and has saved countless number of trees with the reduction in the use of paper.
Today, it brings us live streaming of news, movies, songs and shows. Hollywood and the cinemas will soon be left behind. Traditional mainstream news channels and radio are competing with web-based 24-hours independently produced news streams coming over the internet.
Then there is the misuse of the internet to spread fake news and targeted slanted messages influence voters and hijack the democratic process. The use of apps on Facebook to gather personal data and its questionable use by Cambridge Analytica to interfere in the political process and influence the outcome of elections is under investigation. Abuse of data is widespread. The good and useful technology of the Internet is used for crime, robbery, exploitation and abuse. Cybercrime is a fast-growing industry and billions have been lost through hacking of bank accounts, blackmail, and fraud.
Jenny and her four teenage friends, living in a rural village in the Philippines not far from a big city, were offered jobs in hotels and restaurants but they ended up having debts to their trafficker and soon were forced to perform sex acts before a live internet-connected camera for paying customers. They were instructed to shave off all body hair and to look even younger than their real ages of 14 and 15 years. They were victims of live-streaming child pornography. They changed and came to hate themselves and had a very low self-esteem. They despaired of ever paying their debts and escaping to go home and back to school.
They were mercifully rescued in a police operation and were brought to the Preda Foundation Home for Girls where they recovered and regained trust and dignity and overcame the trauma. But thousands of minors don't get saved and their life is a misery of exploitation and abuse. Local and foreign customers who view them online sometimes travel to meet and sexually assault them. International sex tourism is fuelled and promoted by child pornography and cyber-sex shows.
The worst form of internet abuse must be the exploiter grooming youth and children on chat forums posing as a new boyfriend or girlfriend. The exploiters persuade the victims to expose themselves and perform a sex act on live camera and they record it. They then blackmail the youth by threatening to post the images on the internet and send them to their parents or friends. It has led to many suicides, how many we don't know, but the rate of youth suicides has increased dramatically in recent years. Teenagers have to be protected, educated and warned of this kind of crime that targets them.
In a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), it said that "in the 90 countries (areas) studied, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among young males and the third for young females. Of the 132,423 deaths of young people in the 90 countries, suicide accounted for 9.1 percent." According to the WHO suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally. These are shocking statistics and the abuse of the internet for crime
maybe the cause of the increase in suicides. These criminals cut short the lives of thousands of young people.
Another terrible crime perpetrated over the internet is child pornography. This has grown hugely and is one serious contributing cause of the growing number of children being sexually assaulted. It is a serious crime in itself in almost every country. In the Philippines under the anti-child pornography law, the making and/or distribution of child pornography carries up to twenty years in prison. The possession of illegal images by individuals on their computers or mobile phones carries a heavy penalty and a huge fine. Weak implementation of the law is a problem and child pornography is common.
The anti-child pornography law known as Republic Act 9775 imposes these penalties. The law was first proposed and lobbied to Senator Jamby Madrigal by this column writer and became law in 2009. It is a unique law since it orders that the big corporations that make internet connections possible through their computers (the Internet Server Providers or ISPs) supervised by the National Telecommunications Commission install software that identifies, blocks and filters out child pornography.
Section 9 of the law states that "all ISPs shall install available technology, program or software to ensure that access to or transmittal of any form of child pornography will be blocked or filtered. An ISP who shall knowingly, willfully and intentionally violate this provision shall be subject to the penalty provided under Section 15(k) of this Act. The National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) shall promulgate within ninety (90) days from the effectivity of this Act the necessary rules and regulations for the implementation of this provision which shall include, among others, the installation of filtering software that will block access to or transmission of any form of the child pornography."
However, it seems that this law is not being respected and implemented. Child pornography and cyber sex crimes in the Philippines are rampant, widespread and growing. Thousands of children are being sexually abused and photographed and their images are sold locally and abroad. This is the worst crime of all and the powerful allow it with impunity. We need to stand against it and work to protect children and bring the abusers and enablers to justice.
Fr Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban priest based in the Philippines. He is founder and president of the Preda Foundation. www.preda.org
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