Thousands of children in the Philippines are employed in prostitution, with cybersex becoming increasingly popular via webcams. Terre des Hommes focuses on this form of child exploitation through education, information, care, legal and psychological support for the children.
With massively dumped second-hand computers from the west, a new trend has emerged in the Philippines: cybersex. Young children are forced to perform sexual acts on behalf of a webcam for men from the west. Whole districts benefit from the girls’ proceeds, so everyone looks in a different direction.
CEBU – Barely thirteen years old, Jean-Ann gets a job offered by a nephew from a nearby slum. She will have to sell candles on the market in the Philippine city of Cebu, an opportunity that the girl takes with both hands. Her father is unemployed and mother earns too little to feed her nine children. Already on the first working day the side job is totally different. Instead of selling candles the young girl is placed in front of a webcam. She has to chat with unknown naked men who ask her to take off her shirt. “The more willing the customer was to pay, the further we had to go. I had to touch my breasts while masturbating “, the now 17-year-old Jean-Ann looks back ashamed. “I felt sad and small. When I think back, I feel guilty. “She shows the internet café where it all happened. In a small stuffy space at the edge of a slum, there are two rows of five computers. Two girls are just working. While on the computer next to it a couple of little boys unperturbedly spell a game, the girls chat simultaneously with different men. They log into a chat room, type a few sentences with words like “horny” and “very young” and in no time, several customers sign up. The webcam also goes for the highest bidder. A white man in his mid-fifties appears completely naked on the screen. The girl speaks to him as Sugardaddy (sugar cream), for young men “boyfriend” is the fixed title. In every sentence there is at least one “ooh baby, yes baby”. This time, the clothes stay on and it stays with inflammatory language.
A chat session delivers between 20 and 200 euros depending on the customer’s wishes. The following applies: the younger, the more expensive. Above twenty euros, the blouse goes out, the fifty euros also the pants. Special wishes are even more expensive. Parents do not shy away from using very young children, sometimes even under ten years of age. The majority of the proceeds disappears into the hands of others: the policeman who looks the other way, the cousin who acts as an intermediary, the owner of the internet café and the neighborhood who is silent. In the end, for the girl, 1 or 2 euros per day remains, just enough to buy a kilo of bad rice or to pay the school fees of a brother or sister.
“The problem is that cybersex is not considered harmful by the Philippines because there is no physical contact with the customer,” said social worker Sheila Baylosis. “Parents even encourage their children to sit in front of the camera. Sometimes younger brothers, sisters or neighborhood children are also involved. It provides relatively easy money and is easy to organize. The family buys a second-hand computer with an internet connection from the west for a few tenner’s. Payments are made via anonymous international money agencies such as Western Union.
Once the payment is received, the girl receives a signal that “the show”, as a chat session is called, can begin. “With the money that the girl earns, a whole family and sometimes even a whole neighborhood can be maintained. For parents of large and poor families it is therefore a tempting way to earn money. They do not stop or ignore the psychological damage that a child can incur with the chat sessions. In general, the longer the period in which the child was abused, the greater the consequences. These may consist of depression, anxiety and guilt, concentration problems and a negative self-image. Children can also have problems in later sexual relationships “.
There are severe penalties for the sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines. Adults who force a child into sexual acts before a webcam risk 20 years in prison. Physical sexual contact with a child is even lifelong. At the end of last year, the police in the Philippines picked up two women who had abused two very young children. Flóvin O, one of the suspects in the Amsterdam sexual abuse case, would have watched live via a webcam. On 12 June, it is precisely the international day against child labor, his lawsuit begins.
Whether it comes to a condemnation of Filipino women is still the question. “Processes take years, courts are not child-friendly and there is not enough knowledge in collecting evidence,” says Noemi Truya of the Childrens Legal Bureau in Cebu that assists abused children. “The chat sessions are usually not recorded. Once the computer is turned off, the evidence is gone. The government has recently hired specialists from the United States for the first time to gather technical evidence. It also investigates whether criminal organizations are behind. The number of lawsuits involving cybersex can still be counted on one hand. The best method is to catch the people in the act of forcing the children into the webcam sex. But the chance of an act is extremely small. Moreover, this form of child labor does not have any priority for the police “.
With the support of children’s aid organization Terre des Hommes, the Philippine organization Forge is taking abused children. Forge estimates that in the city of Cebu alone (with 900,000 inhabitants the fourth city in the Philippines) about 1000 children work in the sex industry, both boys and girls. How many children should sit behind a webcam is difficult to estimate because this type of abuse usually takes place behind closed doors. Since 2008, Forge has taken 300 children out of the business. That is often a process of years. Social worker Sheila Baylosis: “We speak to the children on the streets and try to win their trust. We have built a shelter where the children can live until they have finished high school. In the meantime, we support the parents financially because they have lost an important source of income. In addition, we provide psychological support. Many children are traumatized, feel guilty or are depressed. We try to give the children a new direction in their lives with targeted training and training. It is also important to re-learn them what is good and what is bad behavior. Good behavior is rewarded with certain privileges such as an afternoon of shopping “.
Jean-Ann and Stephany have put their lives on the rails again. Stephany uses her own experiences to guide girls from the sex industry. Jean-Ann no longer dreams of marrying a rich Western man, but sees her future in her own country. “I try to leave this period behind me and am now working hard to finish my high school. My dream is to become a social worker. Then I can still use my own experiences for something good. ”
Jean Ann (17), trapped by a cousin
Barely thirteen years old, Jean-Ann is offering her a job as a nephew from a nearby slum, an opportunity that the girl seizes with both hands. Her father is unemployed and mother earns too little to feed her nine children. Already on the first working day the side job is very different, because instead of selling candles the Filipino girl is placed in front of a webcam. She has to chat with unknown naked men who ask her to take off her blouse. “The more willing the customer was to pay, the further we had to go. I had to touch my breasts while masturbating “, the now 17-year-old Jean-Ann looks back ashamed. “I felt sad and small. When I think back, I feel guilty. ” She shows the internet café where it all happened. In a small stuffy space at the edge of a slum, there are two rows of five computers. Two girls are working and chatting simultaneously with different men. They log into a chat room, type a few sentences with words like “horny” and “very young” and in no time, several customers sign up. The webcam also goes for the highest bidder. A white man in his mid-fifties appears completely naked on the screen. The girl speaks to him as Sugardaddy (sugar cream), for young men “boyfriend” is the fixed title. Jean-Ann worked almost daily in the internet cafe for two years. Through the Forge organization, a project partner of Terre des Hommes, she was able to leave the world. Meanwhile, Jean-Ann lives in the Teen Dreamershome and wants to study after secondary school to become a social worker.
Stephany (18) ended up in street prostitution through cybersex
The danger of cybersex is that the step to real physical contact is small for some children. That happened to Stephany. From her twelfth she was chatting almost daily, including with men from her own city. One of her chat friends wanted real sex after a while. “In the end, I agreed for an amount of $ 100. I took Shabu, a cheap variant of cocaine, to make sex easier. We went to a hotel where I was deflowered. I was just 14 years old then. Afterwards, he asked me if I wanted to buy new condoms. When I returned, he was gone, without paying. Later he turned out to have recorded everything on video. That film is now circulating somewhere on the internet. After that I worked as a prostitute on the street for a few years. I worked from ten o’clock in the evening until five o’clock in the morning. Sometimes I let myself pay in call credit. I also had politicians, teachers and policemen as clients. You had to be constantly on guard against the police. It could happen that you first had an agent as a client and then afterwards arrested by that same agent. We distributed gossip about girls who earned too much to make her less attractive. I slept during the day, so going to school was not possible “.
Bart Coolen is a freelance journalist and photographer and member of the International Federation of Journalists.