Senate bill expanding protection for children vs online sex crimes hurdles 3rd, final reading

Sen. Risa Hontiveros

The Senate, voting 23-0, passed on third reading Thursday an awaited remedial legislation expanding government protection for children against online sexual abuse and exploitation.

Senate Bill 2209 to be known as Special Protections Against Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (OSAEC) Law, or the Anti-OSAEC Law, awaits its timely approval of its counterpart from the House of Representatives, after which a reconciled final version, will be submitted to President Duterte for signing into law.

Its principal sponsor, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who chairs the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, affirmed the remedial legislation updates provisions in existing laws “to better protect children against acts of sexual violence, abuse and exploitation in the online sphere.”

“It is time that we put an end to the rampant online sexual abuse and exploitation of children in the country. Let’s make sure that there will be no more predators and abusers who will be able to avoid our laws, and that there will be no more child victims subjected to such horrible acts,” Hontiveros said.

The measure’s co-sponsor, Senator Win Gatchalian, hailed the third reading approval.  He earlier flagged reports that students were doing an “online Christmas sex sale,” where bundles of lewd images and videos were sold to raise funds for distance learning-related expenses.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Cybercrime reported that in 2020, it has received 1,297,000 million cyber tipline reports of suspected OSAEC cases, almost thrice the 426,000 reports in 2019, he noted.

Hontiveros confirmed the bill expands existing laws like the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009 (RA 9775) and “plugs gaps in the law” by defining and penalizing OSAEC as a separate crime from those punished under current laws like the Special Protection of Children against Abuse, Exploitation and Discriminaton Law (RA 7610) and the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208.)

She noted that the bill also empowers law enforcers with additional tools to investigate and prosecute Filipino and foreign perpetrators of OSAEC, particularly those hiding behind the veil of anonymity provided by online platforms and applications.

The senator added that another key feature of the bill “imposes additional legal duties on internet intermediaries, such as internet service providers, web hosting providers, online payment system providers, social media networks and others-  to adopt systems of preventing, detecting, blocking and reporting acts of OSAEC.”

This, she explained,  “means that social media companies like Facebook may be duty-bound under law to block and remove material involving child sexual abuse and exploitation within 24 hours from receipt of notice, preserve such evidence in their possession, and devise procedures of preventing, detecting, blocking and reporting any similar material.”

Moreover, Hontiveros added that in order to “help prevent the entry of predators like Peter Scully – the Australian national dubbed the “World’s Worst Pedophile,” who was arrested in the country in 2015 – into the Philippines, the bill will also bar entry into the country of all convicted perpetrators of OSAEC in other jurisdictions, as well as aliens being investigated upon by Philippine authorities for involvement in OSAEC activities.”

In addition, the senator  pointed out that a registry of foreign and local OSAEC offenders will be maintained and regularly updated by government under the bill, confirming that “a new government body – the National Coordination Center against OSAEC (NCC-OSAEC)  – will be also created to  coordinate government efforts against OSAEC and to receive tips and reports of such activities.

The lawmaker lamented, “Sadly, the Philippine has become one of the global hotspots of child sexual abuse and exploitation. According to the UNICEF back in 2016, we were one of the top ten countries producing child sexual abuse and exploitation materials. This problem has only gotten worse with the COVID-19 pandemic, since OSAEC cases reportedly increased by 264.6 percent.”

Hontiveros, moreover, reminded that “we have a shared responsibility to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Armed with effective legislation, we should work as one community towards stopping these horrible acts against young Filipinos everywhere.” 

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