Metro Manila, Philippines— The country remains a “source and destination” for various forms of child abuse, especially sexual exploitation, a United Nations special rapporteur disclosed on Thursday.

Mama Fatima Singhateh, UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, recognized the efforts by the Philippine government to address sexual abuse and exploitation on children.

However, she noted that more should be done to protect the children in the country.

“The Philippines has made noteworthy efforts to improve the policy, legal and institutional framework in view of protecting children against the many forms of sexual abuse and exploitation and sale of children,” said Singhateh during a presentation of her preliminary findings.

“The Philippines remains a source and destination country for child trafficking, sale, sexual abuse, forced marriage, among others, and forced labor,” she added.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, who met with Singhateh, admitted that the country is leading in child sexual exploitation.

“We are number one in the world. Dapat mawala na ito, ayun talaga ang effort ng gobyerno ni Pangulang Marcos, itigil na itong status ng Pilipinas na nangunguna tayo sa child sexual exploitation,” he said in an ambush interview with reporters.

[Translation: We are number one in the world. This should stop. The Marcos government is making efforts to put an end to the status of the Philippines as the leader in child sexual exploitation.]

Republic Act No. 11930 or Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children lapsed into law early this year. It increases the responsibilities and accountability of social media platforms, electronic service providers, as well as internet and financial intermediaries.

According to a report by the ECPAT International, INTERPOL, and UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti titled “Disrupting Harm,” 20 percent or at least two million children in the Philippines aged 12-17 had experienced online sexual abuse in 2021.

Singhateh recommended that there should be trained officials handling cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

“There are no trained officials on child protection at the barangay level to receive and process initial reports of sexual abuse and exploitation,” said the UN special rapporteur. “I am concerned that local governments and politics negatively impact the child protection structures at the local level due to the regular changes of personnel and officials.”

“There appears to be a lack of specially trained prosecutors in child protection in the justice system,” she added. “This results in prosecutors handling and treating child abuse cases like any other regular criminal case. I therefore recommend the establishment of a child protection unit within the prosecution department or an appointment of child protection focal points dedicated to handle child abuse cases.”

The UN special rapporteur also suggested the creation of a children’s home exclusively for sexual abuse victims.

Meanwhile, Remulla said he gave Singhateh an “official letter” to inform her about the government’s efforts to combat online child exploitation.

He added that he will ask Congress to speed up the work in the implementing rules and regulations for the Sim Card Registration Act to identity online predators.

“I will ask the Congress—the Senate and the House— to speed up the working out of the IRR para sa SIM Card Registration [Act] para immediately maging executory na at ma-identify na natin lahat ng perpetrators,” Remulla said.

[Translation: I will ask the Congress—the Senate and the House— to speed up the working out of the IRR for the SIM Card Registration Act so it will be immediately executory and we can identify all perpetrators.]