MANILA, Philippines – Social media has been proven to be a powerful tool for positive social impact but it is also being used for crime, such as the cybersex trade.
A new study released by Plan International found that 6 out of 10 of its respondents turned online to seek clients who exploited children as young as 11 years old.
The study "Children and the Sex Trade in the Digital Age" is part of the Girls Advocacy Alliance's global campaign against sex trafficking called #NotForSale. (READ: Even 2-month-old babies can be cybersex victims – watchdog)
"Transactions included agreements on the characteristics of the child or adolescent and/or the customer, terms of payment, specific sexual acts to be performed including the do's and don'ts, length of the sexual service, date, time, and location of the service," the study reads.
Pimps manage Facebook groups – with about 5 to 15 girls – where photos and profiles are posted.
These Facebook groups include:
However, Plan International noted in the study that groups could be dissolved or changed after each transaction.
"Accounts managed by a pimp for online transactions were active only when they were needed. After which, they became inactive and eventually, the group account would be closed. However, when this happens, another account with a different set of children and adolescents would be set up," it stated.
Aside from the ease by which these illegal transactions are facilitated, online platforms have also enabled teenagers to be "freelancers" in the illegal trade, without needing a pimp to connect him or her to a customer.
These young sex workers usually spend up to 3 hours for every transaction. In each session, majority earn P2,000 to P3,000 while a number of them get P4,000.
The income of cybersex traders is higher than those involved in face-to-face engagement. Study informants explained that they usually get commission from gifts, food, or free drinks given by their customers.
When it comes to their reasons for involvement, both online and traditional sex workers cited poverty and the need to help their families. Both groups also treat this as a temporary job. The study said their period of involvement only lasts for 2 to 5 years.
It was notable that those in the internet-mediated group said that being able to afford simple luxuries is one of the reasons why they continue to sell sexual favors.
According to the study, there are enough Philippine laws that protect children from this inhumane business but as with any law, enforcement is the problem.
"It was revealed that while the Philippines has a good number of laws, policies, and programs on child protection, there are limited funds and trained personnel for its implementation," the study reads.
It noted that for 12 years, the implementation of Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act was limited due to poor budget allocation. The 31 laws related to child protection also had no funding in 2012.
This is also true even at the local level.
The study noted that local government units (LGUs) are in charge of setting up a Local Council on the Protection of Children (LCPC). But this unit established in the 1970s only got funding in 2012 through a memorandum circular issued by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG). The directive ordered LGUs to allot 1% of their budget for the LCPC.
Prevention, through enforcement and delivery of basic social services, is still seen as the best way to end sex trafficking. But while the trade continues and more women and girls are exploited, Plan International urged the government to assist victims by providing employment skills training and support for psychological rehabilitation. – Rappler.com