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Child pornography, a serious Philippine problem

Publication Date : 20-01-2014


Cyberpornography is now the No. 1 crime in the Philippines, even worse than drugs. So says the Philippine National Police (PNP) after the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency reported that an international antichild pornography operation cracked a pedophile ring in the Philippines operating in cyberspace.

“The data speaks for itself,” says Senior Supt. Gilbert Sosa, director of the PNP Anti-Transnational and Cyber Crime Division, pointing to the pins swarming the map of the entire archipelago. “We have to act on this.” He lamented the fact that their efforts to run after the syndicates are being encumbered by legal constraints, such as being prevented from getting data from the telecommunications companies.

Well, to solve a problem, you first have to know what the problem is.

The problem in fact is not cyberpornography, it is cyber child pornography. Those are two different things, and not being clear about the difference is an obstacle unto itself.

Pornography where it does not involve minors is legal in many parts of the world though strictly regulated. In the United States, porn actors are required to undergo regular medical exams and, in some states, to wear condoms to prevent the spread of disease. Employing minors—below 18—however is completely illegal and prosecutable.

Cyberspace is the natural extension of pornography. Of course that creates all sorts of problems for countries about how to make sure pornography doesn’t fall into the hands of minors. A near-impossible task for households that have a DSL. Parents of course can always set all sorts of controls on the programs their kids may see, but that presumes they are computer-savvy, which most of them are not. The opposite is often true: Their kids know more about computers than they do.

The thing is, there’s really not much the authorities can do about nonchild pornography, cyber or otherwise. Nor should they. At the very least because fighting crime is a matter of priority. Given limited resources, go for the bigger crimes, the real crimes. At the very most because you get into all sorts of legal tangles about civil rights and privacy issues. You end up dissipating your resources over something that may not be a crime at all, or at least that is defensible on legal, if not moral, grounds.

The problem is child  pornography, cyber or otherwise, although cyberspace has magnified the problem monumentally. That is a crime, legally and morally, patently and heinously. Preying on the children is so. It is a crime against heaven and earth. It has to be stopped.

It’s a crime that is bound to flourish over time unless drastic action is taken. The first thing the relief agencies, United Nations or otherwise, warned us about in the wake of “Yolanda” was the potential exponential increase in human trafficking, particularly child trafficking. And nothing can be a worse form of child trafficking, notwithstanding that it does not entail physical cross-border transfers, than cyberspace child pornography. That is profiteering of mind-boggling proportions, more vicious than the contractors who overcharge the building of temporary dwellings for the homeless.

I remember again the photographs that appeared on our pages of the tribe of children huddling in the relief centers, who had been made orphans by Yolanda. I remember in particular the seven-year-old boy who sat quietly by a corner saying in a hushed voice when he was asked if he missed his family—his parents and two siblings who were swept away by the waters—“yes”. You think of the legions like that who will be lured out of need and desperation by the wolves in sheep’s clothing, by the pornographers in saviors’ clothing, and your blood will boil.

I’m all for doing something against it. I’m all for doing everything against it. But even in that respect, we ought to exercise the utmost caution to see that good intentions do not produce harmful results, or specifically that we do not overstep the bounds of due process. I say that in particular because Sosa’s lament that they could do a better job of fighting cyberpornography if the courts would not hinder their efforts to access telecommunications records sounds ominous. But of course the courts are right to stop them in their tracks. Those are dangerous tracks, far more dangerous than opening bank accounts wantonly to expose, or prevent, hidden wealth.

That won’t make things better, that will make things worse. That is a full-scale invasion of privacy, laying out a welcome mat to all sorts of civil rights violations.

But I sympathise completely with Sosa when he says they can do with some help from the public, in particular by our alerting them to possible child pornography activities in our neighborhoods. The racket cannot be entirely hidden, involving as it does a number of people. I grant it’s not easy even with that, as parents of the children themselves, quite apart from petty barangay officials, are often willing participants in it.

Of course, at the end of the day, it’s still grinding poverty and desperation that cause things like modern-day slavery, prostitution, and child pornography, to happen, to which we contribute hugely. If our officials themselves can mount prostitution rackets in our embassies abroad, preying on stranded overseas Filipino workers who have sought shelter there, our criminals can certainly mount prostitution rackets preying on the weakest or most helpless of our people, who are our children. Or worse our orphans.

Meanwhile, well, we’re not entirely powerless to lessen the blight, if only at the margins. Forget pornography, run after child pornography. Forget those who screw, run after those who screw the children, in more ways than one. That’s hard enough as it is, but it’s more doable. And right on target: They’re the worst vultures of all.


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