AUTHORITIES say rising Internet use in Southeast Asia is fuelling the spread of material that is abusive and sexually exploitative of children, particularly as growing numbers of young people put footage of themselves online.
Regional Internet availability is about 50 percent, a recent study showed, but the figure rises to 58 percent in the Philippines, a hub for online sex abuse, while in Thailand, where the problem is growing, it reaches 67 percent.
“You will only see that that will increase,” said Jon Rouse, a member of Taskforce Argos, an Australian police unit that targets online child sex abuse networks.
“The big problem we’re seeing at the moment is the proliferation of self-produced material by children. It’s just killing us,” added Rouse, referring to children livestreaming themselves, whether at the instigation of a sex offender or a friend.
“That material then gets used by sex offenders against them.”
In a seven-day check on Bangkok, more than 3,600 individual Internet addresses had been identified sharing child exploitation material, said Rouse, who was speaking on the sidelines of a conference in the Thai capital.
Demand for livestreaming of child sex abuse is a growing problem in the Mekong region, the United Nations said in August, as it pointed to a shift in child sex webcam centres from the Philippines to Thailand.
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In 2016, the UN children’s agency said poor families in the Philippines were pushing their children into performing live sex online for paedophiles around the world, in a form of child slavery.
Online child abuse was constantly evolving, said Neil Walsh, who heads the global cybercrime programme of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
“If we say we are keeping it at bay, we are probably not being honest with ourselves,” he told Reuters.
A report from Plan International Philippines revealed earlier this week that online livestreaming is the new phenomenon in the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Plan International Philippines country director Dennis O’Brien was quoted by the Philippines Star as saying while commercial sexual exploitation of children is not new, “access to (the) Internet and technology makes the children more vulnerable” to this abuse.
“Commercial and online sexual exploitation of children has become a social epidemic in the Philippines… We have easy, inexpensive Internet access,” he said when launching the report entitled “Children and the Sex Trade in the Digital Age.”
O’Brien said poverty remained the “main driver for the entry (of children) into the sex industry. The Filipinos’ proficiency in the English language, he said, has also been contributing to the problem.”
“English is widely spoken in the Philippines so the children are able to meet demands all over the world. The stigma and fear associated with sexual exploitation are also there. These factors are coming together to create a perfect storm,” he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters