To combat online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) in barangays, PLDT and Smart are collaborating with the youth-led organization Kids for Kids Philippines (Kids for Kids PH) and SaferKidsPH, a pioneering consortium of Save the Children, The Asia Foundation, and UNICEF.

PLDT and Smart have joined the partnership to continue to remain at the vanguard of the global and local fight against OSAEC, guided by their fundamental business value of “malasakit.”

OSAEC, which SaferKidsPH describes as “an appalling kind of online violence against children today,” has been on the rise in the Philippines as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Kids for Kids PH involves the youth sector and champions a multi-sectoral and community-based approach to help battle OSAEC through their Kakampi Klub worldwide alliance and campaign. Kids for Kids PH has partnered with SaferKidsPH to bring its work to the ground, using PLDT and Smart as private sector partners.

The collaborative program dubbed “Safer Spaces for Kids,” which is currently being tested in Barangays Carmen and Canito-an in Cagayan de Oro City and Tubod in Iligan City, aims to equip, train, and mobilize Barangay Council for the Protection of Children (BCPC) units in OSAEC prevention, response, rescue, and rehabilitation. BCPCs are dedicated units of local government entrusted with providing basic services and protecting children’s rights in their communities.

Save the Children conducted an OSAEC baseline study in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, which provided opportunity to increase awareness about OSAEC and strengthen community capacity to combat the crime. “We are very encouraged by these local government units’ good awareness of the necessity for a whole-of-community approach in controlling dangers and risks that children confront in today’s digital environment. They have prepositioned institutions and community readiness for the deployment of anti-OSAEC measures in response to the requirements of their constituents,” stated Jose Rosete, Assistant Vice President and Head of Government Relations at Smart.

PLDT and Smart are providing connectivity and distributing learning tools on digital safety and wellness, as well as fundraising initiatives, to support the program. The partnership, in collaboration with SaferKidsPH and Kids for Kids PH, will collaborate with local governments, BCPCs, and the youth sector to boost community response to OSAEC.

Catherine Yap-Yang, PLDT First Vice President and Group Head for Corporate Communications, confirmed that PLDT and Smart are launching this initiative to implement their industry-leading Child Safeguarding Policy and to help mitigate the unintended negative social consequences of rapid digitalization across the country, including OSAEC. “While children are not our direct consumers, they are the ultimate users of our digital services. While we aim to empower our children, we also recognize that they are exposed to online hazards and harms such as OSAEC. “We need to take these steps today to assist create a safe atmosphere for our children,” Yap-Yang said.

Prior to this collaboration, PLDT and Smart joined the Internet Watch Foundation’s global coalition against Child Sexual Abuse Materials as the country’s first members, and have integrated a Child Protection Platform into their 24/7 network security systems to continually ban websites with OSAEC.

In the meantime, UNICEF Deputy Representative Behzad Noubary discussed the variables that promote and prevent OSAEC. “Children’s lack of awareness of online hazards puts them at risk of being abused. Parents who are unable to feed their children may be pressured to sell their children online, frequently ignorant of the consequences of their actions. This does not have to be the case, however. To stop the abuses, we must provide children with the skills they need to defend themselves. UNICEF envisions a world in which children have access to information and are able and free to express themselves, with adults ensuring their safety.”

“We want to encourage local governments to raise resources and investments, adopt local legislation, and train frontline workers to prioritize the best interests of children,” Noubary said.

With the youth sector pushing change for the greater community, Natasha Tanjutco and Isabella Tanjutco, co-founders of Kids for Kids PH, expressed their gratitude for the increased support for their youth-led efforts for children’s rights. “We believe that abandoning our children would be equivalent to abandoning our country. Because OSAEC is such a tough topic to discuss, Kakampi Klub seeks to facilitate more digestible discussions while examining the core reasons of the problem, such as a lack of knowledge, food security, safe spaces, and policy. Our campaign is built on four pillars. We wish to give an example of the grandeur that can be achieved when people work together for the betterment of our children.”

Citizens can contact the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children Protection Center’s Aleng Pulis hotline at 0919-777-7377 to report cases of OSAEC.