LONDON: Poor families in the Philippines are being forced to push their children to perform live sex online for paedophiles around the globe in what one senior Unicef official has called a form of â€œchild slaveryâ€.
Children as young as five or six are forced to perform several times a day in front of a webcam, for an hour at a time, as buyers in different time zones come online.
â€œItâ€™s facilitated by mothers and fathers or close relatives. It may even happen in their home,â€ she added.
â€œItâ€™s definitely child slavery because the child has no choice. Thereâ€™s no limits to how cruel and gross this business is â€“ and itâ€™s a billion, billion-dollar business,â€ said Lotta Sylwander, head of the UN childrenâ€™s agency Unicef in the Philippines.
â€œDigital technology is changing the scale and form of child sexual abuse and exploitation, and the Philippines is now seeing more cases of live stream child sexual abuse, from 57 in 2013, to 89 in 2014, and 167 in 2015,â€ Unicef East Asia and the Pacific revealed in a report titled â€œChild Protection in the Digital Ageâ€.
Sylwander said money transfer centres should do far more to identify abusers by tracking suspicious payment patterns.
Unicef says the Philippines is the number one global source of child pornography and the â€œepicentre of the live-stream sexual abuse tradeâ€.
Poverty is a driver with many parents expecting their children to contribute financially. One group of young children rescued in Manila said they were paid 150 pesos (RM13.50) to take part in shows.
The paedophiles transfer money and then give instructions of what they want to see.
Sylwander said the Philippines received 7,000 reports of cybercrime a month, half of which were related to child sex abuse.
Unicef says the children were often left severely disturbed.
Sylwander described how one very young boy living in a safe house started undressing and making sexual movements when he saw a staff member pick up a mobile phone because the boy automatically thought he wanted to film him.
â€œTheir minds have been so traumatised and so destroyed and so focused on anything sexual that they canâ€™t play or communicate like kids any more. Itâ€™s a very difficult rescue process,â€ Sylwander added.
Despite the rising number of cases coming to light there have been very few convictions.
One problem is that the age of sexual consent in the Philippines is 12. Unicef wants it raised to 16.
â€œOur biggest hurdle is not the government, not the police; itâ€™s getting the Internet providers to come along and say we will help you track (and) stop this,â€ she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in London.
â€œMy biggest concern is why donâ€™t the Internet providers do more â€“ how can the dark web continue to do what it does?â€ â€” Agencies