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Child pornography: Evil that preys silently on poor Filipino children

November 18, 2008 7:55pm
MANILA, Philippines - It was a police operation that rescued sixteen-year old Marina (not her real name) and at least a dozen other girls from a suspected “cyber sex den" in Bacoor, Cavite, a few months ago. Weighed down by mixed feelings of relief, guilt and shame, Marina bowed her head and covered her face with her long hair as she broke into tears.

She felt relieved that after a couple of months, she would no longer have to oblige herself to perform sexual acts in front of the camera for customers abroad. But she felt guilty and ashamed, blaming herself for letting it happen in exchange for a few thousands pesos that she sent to her family in the province.

Di ko maintindihan ang nararamdaman ko (I can’t understand what I’m feeling)," she said as she narrated how she fell victim to what the police call child pornography.

Marina said she was recruited in her home province as a waitress only to find out later that there was no eatery or restaurant waiting for her. With no one to run to and no resources at hand to make a getaway, she was forced to stay and work at the sex joint.

Adding insult to injury, some media reports referred to Marina and the other girls not as "rescued victims," but as "arrested suspects."

Marina is just one of many Filipino children who are pushed into child pornography, a malady that has been exploiting girls and boys as young as five years old for some time now.

The Center for Integrative and Development Studies of the University of the Philippines (UP CIDS) says the child pornography industry in the Philippines is widespread and systematic than imagined.

For lack of local legal material to define child pornography, UP CIDS adopts the definition set by the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act of Ireland in 1997. The definition is comprehensive, clear-cut and leaves little room for misinterpretation.

The Act states that child pornography refers to any audio visual or audio representation that shows a person who is or is depicted as being a child and who is engaged in or is depicted as being engaged in explicit sexual activity, or whose dominant characteristic is the depiction, for a sexual purpose, of the genital or anal region of a child.

The Center says it is clear from this definition that images of adults who pretend to be children are considered child pornography. The definition is not also limited to a particular technology that produces the forms of child pornography.

“This is important in that technology such as the Internet, computers, and other digital technologies are playing big roles in the production and dissemination of child pornography," it says in its 2004 report commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Out of control

With new technologies, which include mobile phones, becoming affordable and accessible, the production, storage, and dissemination of child pornographic images are faster and more efficient.

The Optical Media Board (OMB) believes that child pornography is now “out of control" in the Philippines where digital technologies have long extended its arms to the streets where pirated copies of DVDs and CDs showing pornographic images are openly sold.

The Optical Media Board, tasked to ensure the protection and promotion of intellectual property rights, reveal that the inventory of pirated DVDs and CDs it has confiscated shows that 25 to 30 percent of these are pornographic, and that up to 40 percent of these pornographic videos involve children. Most of the children are Asians and brown-skinned, and by physiological features are likely Filipinos.

Edu Manzano, OMB chairman, says the campaign against child pornography does not fall within the ambit of the OMB’s charter, but pornographic images of children are too “offensive, wicked and nauseating" to ignore, and are “indescribably worse" than that of adult pornography.

The materials don’t only depict children being in a state of undress or engaged in erotic poses. Manzano says there are images portraying sexual activities between a child and another child. There are also those with an adult and children, and there are even those with children and animals.

“Some are extreme sexual activities that even adult couples won’t normally want to engage in," Manzano says.

From the children’s facial expression, he says, a viewer can easily surmise the kind of suffering and pain they go through as they are filmed.

“I have made it my personal advocacy to actively lobby against child pornography," says Manzano who has been an active partner of religious groups and child and women advocates in the campaign versus child pornography.

Multibillion-dollar industry

Child pornography is a multibillion-dollar industry, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. It is also considered one of the fastest growing criminal segments on the Internet where approximately one-fifth of all pornography is child pornography.

The Philippines may have been among the biggest sources of online child pornography.

It has become a “booming" industry in the country, says Chief Supt. Yolanda Tanigue, director of the Women and Children’s Concern Division of the Philippine National Police.

She says the rising levels of poverty have propelled the growth of online child pornography in the country, making it very easy for syndicates to set up a cyber-sex den and to entice poor parents to bring their kids as porn “talents."

With a capital of only 50,000 pesos (about US$1,000) and an Internet connection, any businessman can set up a cyber sex den in a small condominium. This is too effortless for an operator who can earn at least US$100,000 dollars a day.

It doesn’t take much to produce a full-length child porn film. All it takes is about 500,000 pesos (US$10,200) to do it here. Parents are already happy with the 40,000 pesos they get for their children's job.

These suspected cyber sex joints are spread out in Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao City and Angeles City in Pampanga. Most of these are run by foreigners and some by Filipinos themselves.

While credit card companies have helped Irish police crack open child porn syndicates in Ireland, the Philippine police see it as a real challenge here, claiming that they have not received the same support from Philippine Internet service providers and credit card firms.

The Credit Card Association of the Philippines (CCAP), however, argues that even if it wanted to, it cannot do anything to clamp down credit card users who avail themselves of child pornography.

Beth Legarda, CCAP executive director, claims that people who patronize and purchase pornographic materials via the Internet are not cardholders of local credit card companies.

“They are foreigners who use international credit cards. We cannot locate their connectivity in our systems."

She assures that based on records of local credit card companies, none of their cardholders are found to be either merchants or buyers of child pornography materials sourced from the Internet.

“But if there would be police investigations, we couldn’t help but require legal documents like a court order from the police before we allow them to look into the transactions of our cardholder who is being investigated. It’s an issue of privacy that we have to consider," Legarda says.

Perpetrators

Child pornography is not exactly new in the Philippines. Even before digital cameras and the Internet have become popular, child porn was already here. Most of the documented cases have been started by foreign pedophiles.

UP CIDS says the phenomenon started in the 70s when American soldiers from Vietnam were reported to be taking pictures of children during their visits in the country.
What made child pornography a national issue were the cases of pedophilia filed against a certain William Harvey who victimized a number of boys and girls in Pagsanjan, Laguna, in the latter part of the 1980s.

There is also a documented case against a certain Hisayaoshi Maruyama who was caught in 1991 but was able to return in 1996 to photograph Filipino children in sadomasochistic poses.

Another one in 2004 involved Noritaka Ota and his Filipino associates who were caught ferrying some 70 children to Laguna for a photo session.

The UP CIDS says not all pornographers are foreigners or are organized. There are also those who are local professional pornographers like tabloids and magazines that feature stories about children involved in sexual acts.

We should not also forget the amateurs - the “kinky or prurient individuals" who use their cell phones or cameras to produce pornographic materials, which they keep for themselves or share with their friends.

Difficult to recognize

Despite the gravity of the offense, child pornography continues to be a problem that is hardly recognized in the Philippines.

“It largely exists in the peripheries of the consciousness of most Filipinos," says the UP CIDS-UNICEF report.

It is not something one encounters in every day life. It is not also well-discussed in communities and even in the media. Filipinos in general have little understanding of the issue. Some parents even regard as child pornography the government's decision to promote sex education in schools.

Nobody seems to understand that the country has actually become vulnerable to child pornography. There are many occasions when children are seen naked even in public. Children run on the streets, swim naked in rivers and lakes.

Filipinos do not see children as objects of desire and do not invest malice in the nakedness of children, especially on those who have yet to reach puberty. This is why Filipino children become easy prey to pedophiles. Some parents do not take caution even when a stranger photographs their children in the nude. More often that not, parents consider it harmless.

This is among the reasons why there are few cases of child pornography reported to authorities even if the actual numbers of victims may really be higher. People largely treat cases of child pornography as mere accessory to or an evidence of a graver crime of sexual exploitation of children such as prostitution, sexual abuse and trafficking, and is therefore a lesser offense.

Such mindset ushers the tendency to downplay the true nature of the problem. People do not realize that sexually explicit photographs or video are permanent images of a child's rape. And the child is repeatedly victimized every time people view her or his pornographic images, the UP CIDS-UNICEF report says.

No law

Child porn has been attacking poor Filipino kids for at least three decades now, but there has been no law passed in Congress against child pornography. The absence of such law complicates the situation. While suspects are arrested, they walk free most of the time.

This has been a frustration for the police, who have developed strategies and instituted specialized training for their members in tackling the crime.

“We have good investigators, but the main problem here is that we don’t have a law against child pornography, not even against cyber crimes" says Tanigue.

The Philippines has an e-commerce law, but there is no law that deals with other forms of cyber crimes, including the proliferation of child pornography on the Internet.

When an investigation led police to child porn clients in Germany and Ireland years back, there was nothing that the Philippines could do. There was and still is simply no law against it.

There are Philippine laws that contain provisions aimed to protect children from pornography, including Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code; R.A. No. 7610 otherwise known as ‘An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination, and for Other Purposes;’ and R.A. No. 9208 or the ‘Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act.’

But these laws have innate weaknesses that make these insufficient to deter the problem of child pornography, Tanigue says. These laws do not offer a specific definition of what child pornography is.

The laws have no specific provisions on issues arising from the use of the Internet and technologies and in the punishment of those who possess child pornographic materials or Internet Service Providers that knowingly host pornographic sites.

Many cases involving child pornography have been dismissed like the one against suspected child pornographer Roland Thys, a Belgian who operated a cyber sex den in Angeles City.

Thys was arrested in 2004 for alleged online trafficking of children and women, but was later released after a local court dismissed his case due to lack of evidence. The court ruled that mere possession of images of child porn doesn't constitute human trafficking.

The case pushed child rights advocates to draft what could be the first law banning child pornography in the Philippines, which was inspired by the child porn law of predominantly Catholic Ireland. The bill, however, has been sleeping in Congress, infuriating the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

“Clearly, even our lawmakers do not realize the urgency of this matter," says Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, chairperson of the CBCP public affairs committee.

The CBCP claims that “this evil" that destroys children has actually transcended the social impact of poverty. There is more to it than just the exigency of an empty wallet, the bishop says.

“This is moral degeneration brought by an environment that has gone so materialistic, hedonistic and individualistic," says Iñiguez, adding that unless Filipinos go back to old values, the evil is here to stay to gorge on the lives of poor and vulnerable children like Marina. - GMANews.TV

(The author is a television news reporter of the GMA Network, Inc. and is a regular contributor of special reports on women, children, education, health, and the environment to the network’s news website GMANews.TV.)
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