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  • Writer's pictureChris Thomas

It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

Australia helps keep Filipino children safe through community sports.

Marian* was just 15 when she met her girlfriend Bea* who was 11 years older than her, in Davao del Norte, Philippines. Their four-month relationship ended after the teenager found out the woman she thought she could trust had uploaded explicit pictures of her on a website which was accessed by people all over the world.

“I had an emotional breakdown – I experienced extreme sadness, crying every day and not being able to sleep at night. I was in rehab with other victims who were rescued and saw that I was not alone – there were other people who had suffered. I was lucky and fortunate that my family were supportive and didn’t make me feel ashamed,” said Marian.

A culture of silence, the fear of reporting abuse and taboos against sexuality often mean young victims are forced to keep quiet, but sport for development charity Football for Humanity (FFH) is hoping to change that with its Australia-supported project Stop the Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (StopOSAEC).

StopOSAEC aims to eradicate the crime of online sexual exploitation of children, which, according to a report published by the Anti-Money Laundering Council of the Philippines in August 2020, had grown exponentially following the COVID-19 lockdowns that brought even greater economic hardships for many disadvantaged communities. The Philippines was cited by UNICEF as the “global epicentre of live-stream sexual abuse trade of children”.

Belle Tiongco, FFH co-founder and vice president, said, “It is so easy to get money from online sexual abuse of children – the technology is easy to get into, and they would justify it by saying there’s no touching involved.” She further added that “At the height of the pandemic, engaging in forms of online abuse became a real alternative for families. There was no work practically – many of the manual and service labour – construction projects, retail and markets all closed. And the first to be hit – and hit hard – were the poorest families reliant on their daily wage with no alternative source of income."

Safe Space through Sports

StopOSAEC uses sport to create a safe space for children to be able to speak out and learn the dangers of online sexual abuse of children.

“With Australia’s support and in partnership with international NGO Coaches Across Continents, we were able to train 22 volunteer community coaches online during COVID-19 lockdowns. We eventually had our field training in Davao City with 37 volunteer coaches and children from the NGO SOS Children’s Village in Davao,” said Belle.

Included in the training is a module on how to teach social media safety to children, which coaches can later teach in their identified communities. Now, StopOSAEC has 21 groups of coaches rolling out targeted sports activities in 31 hotspot communities in the Philippines, including Muntinlupa, Pangasinan, Cagayan de Oro and Cebu. The program’s long-term objectives include setting up linkages and developing livelihood opportunities for families who have abandoned child pornography practices.

“The StopOSAEC coach training taught me a lot of things which I shared with the children, who were very enthusiastic about their new learnings. They especially appreciated learning about social media safety and discipline, so much so that during our trainings, all their phones were turned off and set aside!” said Coach Peter Lim from Guihulngan, Dumaguete.

“The children were so happy because on top of football, they also learned about StopOSAEC, which they don’t get anywhere else. I salute FFH and my colleagues for putting together an inspiring and impactful program for children that will keep them safe from OSAEC,” added Coach Michael Eguillos from Pasig.

FFH President and Founder Chris Thomas sees the program achieving more scale in the future, hoping to double the number of locations to reach far-flung areas in the Philippines.

“There’s a lot of room for the program to grow. We have received so many requests to be part of the program from communities everywhere. We have more foreign partners expressing interest in sharing more coaching education. We also want to reach out to the academe so that we can do impact studies on the effects our interventions had on our beneficiaries and on their families to validate our system. We believe that as we develop more youth leaders, the program will have greater sustainability and larger impacts in communities.”

Australia recognises that paedophiles continue to prey on Filipino children via the internet. In the spirit of mateship and bayanihan, we will continue to support end-to-end efforts to ensure Filipino children are protected from online sexual abuse and exploitation.

*Names have been changed to protect the survivors

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