ILIGAN CITY, PHILIPPINES— This week, diligent investigations and more than a month of surveillance led police to rescue five children—all under the age of 11, and the youngest only 2 years old.
Early Wednesday morning, officers from the Philippine National Police mobilized on one of the country’s southernmost islands. During the investigation, police had confirmed the suspect’s illegal activities, trafficking children to sexually abuse them in front of a camera. Foreign customers, located across the world, could anonymously wire a payment in order to watch and even direct the live abuse.
Surveillance had uncovered illicit photos of a young girl online, shared by the suspect, and authorities were looking for her. As the morning unfolded, the suspect offered to livestream exploitation of her own 9-year-old daughter. As police moved to arrest the woman, social workers from IJM and the Department of Social Welfare and Development brought the two young girls to safety. Authorities also rescued the suspect’s three sons, who were 2, 3 and 10 years old. All five children were taken to an aftercare facility.
During the operation, police collected the suspect’s smart phone, which they believe was used to record and stream the abuse. In cases of cybersex trafficking, like this one, Filipino traffickers prey on children in their vicinity who they can exploit online for pedophiles and predators around the world. Many of the children are young. In cases that IJM has supported in the Philippines since 2011, about half of the rescued victims are 12 years old or younger.
“With every rescue and arrest operation,” IJM’s Director in Cebu, John Tanagho, shared, “vulnerable children in the Philippines are protected more and more from this violent and degrading abuse…Every operation sends the message to the community that the lives and dignity of children are worth more than money.”