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1 in 100 Filipino children trafficked to produce new child sexual exploitation materials in 2022

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1 in 100 Filipino children trafficked to produce new child sexual exploitation materials in 2022

IJM and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab release first of its kind prevalence study.

September 7, 2023, MANILA, PHILIPPINES

In 2022 alone, nearly half a million Filipino children, or roughly 1 in 100 children, were trafficked to produce child sexual exploitation material (CSEM) for profit according to estimates from a pioneering Scale of Harm prevalence study by International Justice Mission (IJM) and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab that was co-designed with survivors of this crime.

With abuse largely driven by demand from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Europe, survivors and IJM are calling on leaders across governments, tech companies and financial institutions to protect children and prevent this growing problem from escalating further.

The Scale of Harm study – the first of its kind - examined the trafficking of children to produce CSEM for profit, especially livestreamed child sexual abuse.

In this crime, a local trafficker sexually abuses a Filipino child in person while an offender, typically from a Western country, watches the abuse happen in real time via video call.

The sex offenders pay Philippine-based traffickers as little as £15 to participate in online sexual abuse of children.

Although it is a small amount for the offender, it is sufficient funds within the Philippines to drive an ongoing demand for new CSEM. The Philippines has become a global hotspot for the financially motivated development of livestreamed child sexual exploitation.

According to the UK National Crime Agency, the UK is the third largest global consumer of livestreamed abuse.

A 2023 report by the Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council found that UK-originating payments triggered the second largest number of suspicious financial transaction reports related to online child sexual abuse and exploitation in the Philippines.

According to INTERPOL “live-streaming of child sexual exploitation for payment has seen an increase in recent years”.

The Scale of Harm study estimates that nearly a quarter of a million adult Filipinos, or roughly 3 in every 1,000 adults, engaged in trafficking to produce CSEM for profit last year.

Read Scale of Harm Report

“As a survivor who knows the pain of online sexual exploitation, the [Scale of Harm] study’s findings underscore the urgency for stronger collective action to protect innocent children.

"Co-designed by survivors, this study is informed by lived experiences. With recommendations involving government, tech and financial companies, civil society organizations, and individuals in our communities, this study marks a crucial step forward,” said Ruby* (pictured above), a survivor leader and one of the survivor consultants who shaped the study.

She added: "For us, this is not just a study, but a description of real-life events that have happened to us and to real people in our cities, neighbourhoods and families."

John Tanagho, (pictured), Executive Director of IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children, said: ‘It is crystal clear that digital spaces and internet-connected, camera-enabled devices pose growing opportunities for offenders to sexually abuse children with ease, anonymity, and impunity.

"What we’ve seen through this report is the sickening scale of abuse. We urgently need to see increased detection, reporting, a duty of care, safety by design, transparency and accountability, and improved law enforcement responses – in both demand and supply-side countries.

"All this legislative action is truly urgent, because this growing societal cancer has – for many years now – been outstripping our global capacity to respond and is constantly evolving as technology changes.

"To stem the growth of these violations of children’s rights, it will take coordinated global action among legislators, criminal justice systems, tech and financial sectors, civil society and survivor leaders.

"The challenges are complex, but child protection solutions – in the justice, tech, and financial sectors – already exist. It is time for key stakeholders to prioritize broad deployment of these comprehensive child protection systems."

IJM undertook the Scale of Harm study over the course of two years, in partnership with the University of Nottingham’s Rights Lab in the U.K, survivor consultants and 24 world-class experts, researchers, and field practitioners from organisations across the technology, financial, government, and child protection sectors.

Survivor focus groups helped identify gaps in awareness and understanding of trafficking for the production of CSEM as well as gaps in public knowledge on how to identify exploitative online behaviour.

They also shared tactics employed by traffickers to conceal illegal activities and cited socio-cultural factors contributing to underreporting, particularly in cases with ongoing victim-trafficker relationships.

“The study marks a significant leap forward in understanding the scale of selling livestreamed and new images and videos of child sexual abuse in the Philippines.

"Building on the previous 2020 OSEC study led by IJM, Scale of Harm employed rigorous methodologies, including national household surveys and data analysis, to provide a comprehensive assessment of the crime’s prevalence.

"It also incorporated valuable inputs from survivors through their involvement in survey design and focus group discussions,” said Professor Zoe Trodd, Nottingham Rights Lab Director.

According to previous studies by IJM, over half the children abused in these cases are 12 years old or younger, with the youngest being just a few months old.

Children experience both mental and physical trauma from this abuse. In the Philippines, victims are abused on average for two years prior to safeguarding.

Members from the Philippines Survivor Network advocacy group, who helped inform this study, are urging global action to prevent children from experiencing this trauma.

Survivors are also advocating for further survivor-informed research into how trafficking to produce child sexual exploitation material is becoming normalised within societies, particularly concerning foreign offenders engaging in relationships with minors and the local traffickers seeking financial gain.

The results of the Scale of Harm study, based on ground-breaking new research, are a global wakeup call that we cannot ignore.

The full Scale of Harm report is available below

About Nottingham Rights Lab:

We are the world’s largest group of modern slavery researchers, and home to many leading modern slavery experts. Through our four research programmes, we deliver new and cutting-edge research that provides rigorous data, evidence and discoveries for the global antislavery effort.

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