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A social evil in the Philippines

Online child pornography in the Philippines is a perverse twist on globalisation:

Consumption patterns in the developed world drive demand for live online "shows", recorded video or still photographs featuring the sexual abuse of children. To supply the demand, a virtual cottage industry of cybersex "studios" now do business in Angeles, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Metro Manila. Often, say the police, it's the parents of the children themselves who serve as the middlemen in the supply chain.

The absolute evil of child pornography also demonstrates the limitations of the capitalist critique of globalisation; its language cannot adequately express a society's horror at the evil it sees. "Consumption patterns", "a drive in demand", "supply chain": These fail to explain the outrage we feel about parents pimping their own children, or on learning that as many as 100,000 Filipino children may have been sexually exploited for online pornography in the last several years.

"Fathers and mothers would bring their children here to show, and would get paid by the owner of the house," explained a police officer in Cebu. Father Shay Cullen, who has spent a lifetime fighting sexual exploitation in Olongapo City, told the BBC the same thing: "There's a huge growing demand and there's a growing supply."

The shape of that illicit and immoral market became more visible when the United Kingdom's Operation Endeavor, an international inquiry involving some 12 countries, led to the arrest of 17 Britons in various parts of the world, and the rescue of 15 children between six and 15 years old in Angeles City. A parallel effort by the Australian police led to the arrest of three Australians.

"Extreme poverty, the increasing availability of high-speed Internet and the existence of a vast and comparatively wealthy overseas customer base [have] led to organised crime groups exploiting children for financial gain," the UK's National Crime Agency reported.

Now the PNP, which cooperated in the international investigation, seems determined to make up for lost time. Senior Superintendent Gilbert Sosa, head of the PNP's anticybercrime unit, said online pornography was now the No 1 crime in the Philippines. "The data speaks for itself. … We have to act on this," said Sosa.

We do not know whether this is in fact the case. There is no hard data on how much the illegal business is worth, on how widespread it is and whether it creates more victims than, say, the thriving trade in illegal drugs. But the country certainly has to act on it; the anecdotal evidence revealed thus far about online child pornography is deeply worrying.

In the first place, there are tens of thousands of victims (children forced to perform for the cameras) who need to be rescued, helped and healed.

Second, there are the hundreds of videos and thousands of photos that must be tracked down and completely deleted or, failing that, tagged in such a way that viewers can be identified and then ultimately charged in court.

Not least, there is the real evil of conscience-less parents who, provoked either by deep poverty, greed or both, volunteer their children to the "studios", or use the cameras themselves to record them.

Surely, there must be a special punishment reserved in hell for the parents who pimp their own very young children. Christians are reminded of Christ's own words of warning that whoever causes "the little ones" to sin, "it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea".

Parents or guardians who put their children in harm's way are a threat to the national community: By raising confused and traumatised citizens, by sacrificing morality for pecuniary interest, by subverting the law and public order, they tear at the very social fabric.

The mayors and the local police in the areas identified as hubs for online child pornography have their work cut out. One of their most important tasks is to identify the parent-pimps, and bring them to justice.


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