Fr. Shay Cullen lives in the Philippines and is the founder of the Preda Foundation. In his most recent reflection he discusses the explosion of child abuse online and explains that more direct positive action must be taken to curb online sexual abuse of children.

The Covid-19 pandemic is on everybody’s mind, weighs on the spirit and invades the body, paralyzes social life and cripples the world economy. Yet, people are adapting, surviving, recovering and are resilient. They, but a few, are coping with the new normal, a reality that the virus is here to stay for a while longer and we have to live and survive it.

The best of human nature is seen in the dedicated service of health care workers. They risk, they sacrifice, they serve. Many tragically die helping others live. What an inspiration they are as they are saving lives and giving back health to the patients with Covid-19.

It is a privilege to help the poor, the sick and the abused children. They are emotionally, physically, and psychologically damaged by the brutal abuse of criminal adults. The dark side of human nature is always with us but now child abuse is expanding like another pandemic due to lock down.

The live streaming of child sexual abuse and the proliferation of pornography that lead to rape has grown. It is the secret crime, done alone to weak vulnerable children that are threatened and terrified to tell of their suffering and ordeal.

For many, it is the perfect crime but brave and courageous children and child defenders and advocates are fighting back. Wherever there are children, there will be abusers. The only gadget needed today to have online live streaming of child abuse is a low-cost smart phone and an internet connection. The internet service providers of the big telecommunication corporations like PLDT/Smart and Globe Telecoms and soon Dito Telecommunity make it all possible. They should have greater corporate responsibility to block the abusive images and video passing through their servers. If they obey the law Republic Act 9775, they would install blocking software to prevent child sexual abuse. Solutions are available. Microsoft PhotoDNA and videoDNA can filter and block the abusive images but the ISPs allegedly prefer to pay a small fine rather protect the children. Senator Imee Marcos has filed a Senate resolution No.487 calling for an investigation into the dismal failures of the telecommunications corporations and their ISPs to block child pornography and live streaming of child abuse under the law.

Jasmin is an 11-year-old child (not her real name) when she was groomed on-line and persuaded by her fake friend to send nude photos of herself and her private parts in return for money. Foolishly, she did it and too late she realized she had been fooled and her pictures appeared as child pornography online via Facebook and likely sold around the world to paedophiles. She is in shock and screams in anger and frustration in the therapy room at the Preda home where she sought help.

Many other children and adults are victims of similar sextortion scams and are being extorted for huge amounts of money by the scammers who lure them into exposing themselves foolishly online. The extortionists are threatening to send the photos to their friends, classmates, parents and teachers. Suicides are common.

The paedophiles, many unable to travel and abuse children themselves, pay adults to perform sexual acts to children while live over the Internet for money. This is despicable, depraved and deserving of life in prison. They are like blood-sucking bats that take the life blood from their victims.

Even Jesus of Nazareth told us the child is the most important in the world and abusers ought to have a millstone tied around their necks and he be thrown into the depth of the sea (Matthew 18:1-7) That’s tough talk indeed. We have to work for justice for the victims.

Child abuse is with us that long and the world religions, the self-appointed guardians of human morality that claim to be the protectors of children, have betrayed the trust given to them. Many clergy have abused children and it is covered up. It was treated lightly, not the heinous crime it truly is for which abusers must be challenged and held accountable.

Non-government organizations, children’s charities and government agencies are fighting human trafficking and child abuse. In 2018, Preda children fought back against their rapists and won 18 convictions. In 2019, they won 20 convictions. Almost all got life sentences in jail. Hopefully more convictions will follow in on-going cases being fought by Preda.

The spreading of child pornography on the Internet to mobile phones incite child rapists to abuse. A child recently rescued by Preda Foundation social workers was Rebecca (not her real name), 14. She was living in a small town in Zambales in dire poverty with her mother. They lived in a small, one room shack made of bamboo slats and a tin roof. Rebecca is mentally challenged, and her adult male neighbours preyed upon her and raped her many times. They threatened her with a knife if she called out. It happened when she was left alone in the shack and the abuse continued until she became pregnant. Rebecca is now safe in the protection and care of the Preda Foundation home for abused children. The Preda Center will heal and help the child pursue justice against her rapists and have them convicted.

Even children view child pornography and are aroused and as reported here previously three boys in Subic town, Zambales, the youngest 10, gang-raped a six-year old. In Sta. Cruz, Zambales, a 13-year old boy sexually assaulted a six-year old girl. The abusers in both these cases were not even reprimanded. In the Subic case, the local authorities allowed the boys to go to relatives in another town instead of getting them counselling and rehabilitation. In the Sta. Cruz case. The boy is still in the community instead of being brought to an Intensive Juvenile Intervention and Support Center. They will likely become adult rapists without help.

This is what is going on daily all over the country. Unless there is less talk and empty promises and more direct positive action to curb online sexual abuse of children, it will only continue to get worse. All who want to help, write your concern to Congresswoman Yeda Marie Romualdez, chairperson of the Committe on the Welfare of Children and Senator Risa Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children and Family Relations, for them to investigate and challenge the ISPs and bring strict control to the spread of child abuse on the Internet and protect the rights of the children.