By Beh Lih Yi
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - British and Australian police are supporting the Philippines' first centre to combat the online sexual abuse of children, launched on Wednesday, as the country becomes a global hotspot for the growing crime.
The global spread of cheap, high-speed internet and the rise in mobile phone ownership is fuelling cybersex trafficking, with children from the United States to India being abused over livestreams and sold for sex to clients around the world.
Anti-trafficking groups say the Philippines has become an epicentre partly due to its rampant poverty, with many children forced to perform sex acts, abused and raped in front of a webcam by relatives who can earn up to $100 per show.
At the Philippine Internet Crimes Against Child Center, national, British and Australian law enforcers will collaborate to detect cross-border abuse and protect children.
"It is a leap forward in our quest for a trafficking-free world," Janet Francisco, the head of the anti-human trafficking division at the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation said in a statement Wednesday.
Official data shows 45,645 reports of online child sexual exploitation were received in 2017 in the Philippines - where a fifth of its 105 million people live in poverty.
Under the pact, the UK's National Crime Agency said it has also offered training and equipment to boost evidence gathering in the Philippines to reduce heavy reliance on victim testimony.
The International Justice Mission, a charity involved in the initiative, said the majority of victims it has rescued are under the age of 12, with the youngest only two years old.
Child rights advocates say the crime has been particularly hard to police as it often involves relatives, but welcomed the move as part of efforts to stem the demand for cybersex.
"We are dealing with a form of crime that has been very challenging for many countries and governments across the world"," said Marie-Laure Lemineur from the End Child Prostitution and Trafficking International, a global charity.
"The problem is really cross-border so we can't only have a national-focused solutions," the deputy executive director told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Bangkok.
Some 784,000 people are estimated to be trapped in modern slavery in the Philippines according to the 2018 Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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