A pleasant morning to everyone!
In my capacity as Secretary of Justice and Chairperson of the Committee for the Special Protection of Children and the Interagency Council Against Trafficking, I bid you all welcome to the second day of the National Forum on Protecting Children in the Cyber Age.
We thank the joint efforts of the Departments of Justice and Social Welfare and Development for making this event possible, highlighting the herculean tasks taken on by the different councils on children. Allow me also to congratulate the Council for the Welfare of Children for the successful celebration of the Children’s Month last October.
Herman Melville, through the point of view of his protagonist Ishmael in search of the enigmatic Moby Dick, which students know at heart to be the first modern novel, observed how we humans sometimes cheerfully consign ourselves to perdition. Honestly, that is what the vast and mysterious ocean that is the internet sometimes makes me feel. Of course, the fantastic and tremendous advantages of the world wide we bare impossible to ignore. Information at your fingertips, faster commercial transactions, connection to family and friends in a speed that was unfathomable three (3) decades ago, inestimable business opportunities available… the list is as kilometric as the expanse of the web and even wider and more infinite as the ocean of Moby Dick.
In conferences such as today where children are involved, I would often use Gary Kovacs of the Mozilla Corporation’s poignant reference to a childhood story which I find appropriate in our engagement in these two (2) days. He said that “we are like Hansel and Gretel, leaving bread crumbs of our personal information everywhere we travel through the digital woods.”
Consider, therefore, the said legitimate observation that every one of us in this room – while all are able-bodied, all advocates and thus, world-weary and capable of defending ourselves – are likened to the lost children who are separated from the woodsman father and who are in danger of being devoured as a meal? Consider that this legitimate observation was given by a man, not only of significant fortune but has the necessary and technical wherewithal to intimately understand the mystery of the web with all its numbers and quadrants and equations, but who still hinted that any one of us can still be a likely victim of a predator in the internet. I fall of us are rendered as vulnerable as Hansel and Gretel, how then will the real children fare in this brave but not so new world of the internet? How can children be able to protect themselves considering their vulnerability and helplessness?
Unsuspecting children fall prey to different forms of abuse by on-line predators, usually disguised as “virtual friends” or “virtual mentors”. And most of the time, these kinds of predators hide under the cloak of anonymity, their identities unascertained. Law enforcers oftentimes face a blank wall in their pursuit.
Different forms of risk in cyberspace are emerging with the introduction of new social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Multiply, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine, Pinterest and FaceTime. This comes along with the advent of the mobile internet access, peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing, instant messaging, chat rooms, multi-player interactive games and web cameras.
Tragically, “one (1) in six (6) children experience sexual violence and hardly any of them report it .”The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) held in November 2005 in Tunis reported that over one million children are exploited in a global commercial sex trade each year that is estimated to be worth up to USD 20billion.
On the other hand, the said Summit highlighted the impact of cyberspace on children and the need to protect them from online predators while also encouraging them to maximize the positive use of information and communications technologies (ICT). The Tunis Commitment and the Tunis Agenda echoed the agreement of world leaders in the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Plan of Action in 2003 urging "all actors in the information society to take action and preventive measures against the use of ICT for any form of child abuse.”
The internet for all its amorphousness and labyrinth of anonymity, provides offenders a vast platform to prey on our children. Creating a protective physical environment for children is difficult as it is. But dealing with the violence and exploitation from the internet requires utmost commitment from the leadership of a country and its somber understanding of the necessity of a sound and effective cybercrime prevention and criminal justice framework to address the lacunae.
The Department of Justice’s strong representation before you today, as in its past and future engagements, demonstrates this Administration’s earnest and sincere commitment to the issue of child protection in the age of information and the internet. Unquestionably and unconditionally, we want all children, regardless of class, creed or gender, to achieve and actualize their full potential unimpeded by deficiencies in education, status or circumstance.
Last May 2013, the Department of Justice, in cooperation with the Council of Europe, organized a Regional Workshop in Manila on “Protecting Children against Online Sexual Violence in South-East Asia: Law Enforcement Cooperation and the Criminal Law Benchmarks of the Budapest and Lanzarote Conventions”. Spearheaded by the DOJ Office of Cybercrime, that May workshop outlined preventive and protective measures consistent with the Budapest and Lanzarote Conventions for the protection of children against sexual violence. For its part, the Office of Cybercrime hopes to accelerate the pursuit and prosecution against child pornography in the internet.
To further amplify our national advocacy, the DOJ, with the Office of Cybercrime, facilitated the national convergence of committees on various childprotection issues to trigger collective actions from various stakeholders at different levels on how to strengthen Government response in affording protection for children in the cyberage. These inter-agency bodies include the Committee for the Special Protection for Children (CSPC), Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council (JJWC), Inter-AgencyCoalition Against Child Pornography (IACACP), and the CWC.
New technologies have multiplied exponentially and our laws and processes simply cannot be left to bite the virtual dust. We recognize that institutional cooperation is an ongoing effort and when the criminals from the online world have lengthened its reach, so too should our institutions’ protection lengthen theirs. We can achieve this when one institution supports and mirrors another’s efforts thereby virtually expanding each other’s reach to reduce, if not obliterate, the egregious violations of online predators.
Herman Melville in Moby Dick describes the OCEAN as I do now of the INTERNET which is often praised for its multitude of virtues. Melville warns, “these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean's skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.”
In today’s times, we cannot simply allow our innocent Hansels and Gretels to figure out on their own, how to push the predatory cannibal into the boiling pot. We must be like Ishmael, protagonists all in our own modern tale of vigilance and courage. Our children’s security is on the line and their joy and their upkeep our very solemn responsibility.
Let this 2-day conference fashion a feasible, wise and clear roadmap to harmonize all strategies of all key agencies to enhance the needed protection of our children in the cyberworld. We should stand by our commitments and see to their fruitful realization. We, of considerable influence and intelligence, guided by insights of our children harnessed through modalities of meaningful participation, must put our acts together to provide for a future where no child is disenfranchised, where no child is left behind.
Maraming salamatpo sa inyong pakikinig. Mabuhay po kayong lahat! Mabuhay ang batang Pilipino!
7 November 2013
Tim Gerrish, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP)