Children of the Webcam: Now Showing

A documentary film serves as a wake up call on the phenomenon of online sexual exploitation in the Philippines

With the proliferation of technology reaching even the most remote towns and cities, the Philippines has become a global hub of child sexual abuse materials–also known as child pornography–and is now seeing more and more cases of live-stream child sexual abuse. In 2016, the Philippines has been tagged by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as the number one global source of child pornography and the “epicenter of the live-stream sexual abuse trade,” with children mostly coming from poor families being exploited by foreigners in exchange for huge amounts of money. Citing poverty within families as one of the factors contributing to commercial sexual exploitation of children, a separate UNICEF report identified that one in four young poor Filipinos have been sexually violated.

The documentary film Children of the Webcam, sponsored by Terre des Hommes Netherlands, featured the work of Belgian undercover journalist Peter Dupont and Dutch filmmaker Jacco Groen, who spent two years documenting the billion-dollar child abuse business in the Philippines known as “webcam child sex tourism”. It showed how anonymous foreign viewers pay as little as $5 or $10 for a live-streamed “show” featuring a child—sometimes as young as 2 or 3 years old—who is then sexually abused according to the client’s specifications. An even bitter reality shown in the film is that many of these cybersex businesses are operated by families. Children are being victimized in their own homes—sometimes by a parent or a sibling. One of the recent cases is that of Australian Gerard Peter Scully, on trial in Cagayan de Oro City for allegedly sexually assaulting children on camera and killing one while videotaping it before selling it over the Internet. According to a report by the Philippine National Police (PNP) Anti-Cybercrime Group, Metro Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Pampanga are the primary sources of internet child pornography in the country.

Courtesy of Springfilm

The Philippine government has started establishing laws against human trafficking back in the 1992, but child pornography and prostitution still persist despite the enactment of various laws that carry penalties against unlawful acts such as Republic Act (RA) No. 7610 or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act of 1992, RA No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, and RA No. 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. While most of the provisions of these laws continue to be relevant, there are some which are no longer at par with or compatible with the changing times and need to be amended. One of the developments that should be taken into consideration is the fact that technology has completely changed the rules of engagement and made it much easier for anonymous buyers to purchase sex online through online payment portals. Unlike before the internet era when customers would have to physically go to a bar or meet pimps to purchase sex, child pornography now is proving much harder to fight as live-stream video leaves less of a trace than digital images or downloaded videos on a computer.

There is also need for law enforcement and the justice system to keep up with the complexities of the digital revolution. For a child offender to be identified and brought to court, a child or parent would have to notify the police and bring witnesses willing to testify, making the prosecution of child offenders more difficult because of the shield of anonymity awarded to them by the internet. Long delays in processing of cases resulting from privacy laws, on the other hand causes witnesses and victims to withdraw from the process or are bribed to do so.

The film showed that with an act occurring “real time”, it is over and done with before any preventative or punitive action can be taken. With this, the film calls on law enforcers and government officials to also use technology at their advantage in catching criminals and child traffickers who are allegedly smarter in hiding their activities. One measure suggested is by putting pressure on Internet Service Providers to release suspects’ data. After all, the internet should remain free but not lawless.


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