The Scale of Harm report finds Australian offenders are a key driver of abuse


Singapore: Technology companies and financial institutions are being urged to take a tougher stand against child exploitation after an alarming new report found 500,000 children in the Philippines were trafficked in a single year to produce livestreams and other sexually abusive content, with Australian offenders a key driver of demand.

A landmark two-year study by the International Justice Mission (IJM) and the University of Nottingham Rights Lab lays bare the magnitude of online child abuse for profit in the south-east Asian archipelago, estimating that one in 100 children in the Philippines were victims in 2022 alone, while almost 250,000 adults in the country trafficked children to record new material.

One of the victims rescued in a record-breaking operation by the Philippine National Police in June that was triggered by intelligence obtained by Australian authorities.Credit: Philippine National Police

Australia has been identified as the third-highest contributor to payments for such content behind the United States and the United Kingdom, according to the Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council, a government agency in Manila.

“It’s just dreadful. It’s such an underreported crime that it was really difficult to know just how prevalent it is,” said IJM Australia chief executive Steve Baird.

“So this bit of research is the first time, I think, anywhere globally that we’ve really had a pulse on the size of this and it’s shocking.”

The Scale of Harm report was developed with survivor consultants and a research team that included experts from the Australian Institute of Criminology as well as Lynne Walker, the former intelligence director of financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC.

The Philippine National Police removes 14 children from harm in an earlier rescue operation based on Australian Federal Police information in 2021.

The Philippine National Police removes 14 children from harm in an earlier rescue operation based on Australian Federal Police information in 2021.Credit: AFP

The abuse usually takes place in real time on livestreams and offenders, mostly watching from abroad, typically pay between $30 and $70 via an international money transfer for the commissioning of a video. Previous IJM research from 2020 showed the average age of children trafficked in the Philippines to be 11.

Intelligence obtained from the Australian Federal Police led to the biggest rescue of victims at once in the Philippines in June. Sixteen children, one as young as 10, were freed in an operation in the north of the country. The operation was instigated after a January search of a 56-year-old Queensland man’s baggage at Sydney Airport by Australian Border Force officers uncovered child abuse material and incriminating messages.

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