Philippine churches have held webinars to raise awareness about online sexual abuse and the exploitation of children
by the Rev. Cathy Chang, World Mission | Special to Presbyterian News Service
This past October, member churches of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) gathered for regional webinars to raise awareness about online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) and share their plans for action. NCCP is a global partner of Presbyterian World Mission. Resource people from ECPAT Philippines (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) and Child Rights Network (CRN) provided presentations to promote awareness. Pastor Hazel Salatan, a United Methodist pastor who is in the faculty development program focused on Christian education at Union Theological Seminary, Philippines, urged churches and faith communities to provide safe spaces for children.
According to Antonette Flores, CRN coordinator of the National Capital Region, OSAEC is defined as the production, online publication, and consumption of photos, videos and livestreams. While the predators are mostly from outside the Philippines, facilitators often come from the family through parents and relatives, as well as neighbors and family friends. ECPAT Philippines Executive Director Dolores Alforte also cited online grooming as a way for an adult to build emotional connection with children, with the intention of abusing and exploiting them.
While poverty is a main driver for OSAEC, the Philippines is a top source for OSAEC for a host of reasons. Parents who work abroad often leave the children unsupervised or under the care of relatives or other adults and leave children vulnerable. Children have easy access to the Internet. They can also communicate in English. Prevailing social norms underestimate the dangers of children spending time online with adults who do not perceive online abuse and exploitation as harmful to children. The availability of remittance centers allows money to transfer easily between sexual predators and facilitators.
Challenging the participants to revisit Filipino culture, Pastor Hazel Salatan shared these reflections at the beginning of each webinar: “[Today in the Philippines] we live in a system where wives and children belong to the fathers. Even our children think children are not yet fully human. … Many view OSAEC as something that the child wanted and was willing to do, and some believe that there is no abuse because she has been touched with parental consent. It is the fault of the child or parent. They made money and benefited. As a church, are we going to judge children the same way we judge Salome? [Instead the church should] … be a part of identifying the real culprit, identify sexual predators, eliminate the culture of victim blaming, and stop the habit where we keep our children quiet.”
In keeping with Pastor Hazel’s reflections, Flores remarked during a follow-up interview, “We need to be aware of whether or not we are contributing to the culture of silence and impunity. OSAEC is a very sensitive issue that involves us rethinking and reevaluating our views. Respecting and obeying our parents, for example, are part of the teachings of the Church. … Especially in a time when poverty is worsening due to the pandemic, more parents and people that children trust push them to engage in illegal activities. In this regard, honoring our parents could be something that would be harmful, in fact, in the case of children.”
The Children Rights Network has mapped out the gaps in Philippine legislation to support greater accountability for technology companies and to increase protection for children. Advocates from CRN are now waiting for the House of Representatives to proceed with congressional oversight, where a resolution has already been filed by the Chair of the House of Representatives Committee of the Welfare of Children.
Not all NCCP member churches are aware or have the capacity to handle the questions and responses to OSAEC; however, these webinars can begin the process by equipping churches and eventually integrating human sexuality into children’s Sunday school and other activities. NCCP’s Program Director for Ecumenical Education and Nurture Deaconess, Arceli Bile, said, “It is a Christian imperative to uphold the life and dignity and in advocating the rights of the children, thus, churches should be active participants in ensuring the well-being of every child and that they live in a safe and nurturing environment.”
“Let the little children come to me, for to them belong the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:14)
Let us pray:
Lord God, we remember these words when Jesus walked the Earth. We still believe that Jesus is here, demonstrated in the ways that we work towards the fullness of life. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic overshadows these promises, as families struggle with lack of food, health, livelihood, safety and security. Guide us as society, churches and individuals to do more than remember but respond by holding people responsible for their actions of perpetuating abuse and exploitation – as well as confronting our behaviors and beliefs and tending to the wounds of trauma and recovery of children. In the name of Christ who welcomed children, we pray. Amen.
To learn more, visit youtu.be/dlkLSTAz3b4.
See the matrix of Philippine laws related to the online sexual exploitation of children here.
The Rev. Cathy Chang is Regional Facilitator for Addressing Migration and Human Trafficking with Presbyterian World Mission.
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Categories: World Mission
Tags: arceli bile, child rights network, dolores alforte, ecpat philippines, Human Trafficking Awareness Day, matthew 19:14, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, pastor hazel salatan, rev. cathy chang, world mission
Ministries: World Mission