A recent study by Stanford University and the Wall Street Journal revealed that Instagram is the favorite platform of pedophile networks for pandering content showing child sexual abuse.

The study found that “large networks of accounts that appear to be operated by minors are openly advertising self-generated child sexual abuse material for sale.”

The findings should raise red flags among authorities in the Philippines, which has been described as the “global epicenter of livestream sexual trafficking of children.”

Half of the 44 million internet users in the Philippines are ages 17 and below, according to one report. That makes it a prime market for online pedophiles.

The Covid pandemic helped nurture the rise of pedophile sites. Most of the populace was confined to their homes by lockdowns and relied heavily on the internet for connecting with the outside world.

More than 1.29 million images and videos of child pornography reportedly came from the Philippines in 2020, more than triple the number the year before.

The Department of Justice reported that from March 1 to May 24, 2020, there were 202,605 cases of online sexual abuse or exploitation of children, or Osaec, 265 percent higher than the figure during the same period the previous year.

Aside from Instagram, the cybersecurity firm Kaspersky noted that Filipino youths were also hooked on YouTube, TikTok, Messenger and Facebook. That makes social media a virtual playground for pedophile predators.

Last year, the enactment of the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse or Exploitation of Children, Child Act (Republic Act 11930) was hailed by child rights groups as a landmark legislation.

One such organization, SaferKidsPH, said the passage of RA 11930 “positions the Philippines as one of the first countries in East Asia and the Pacific region to have an institutionalized and collaborative approach to prevention and response against online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.”

The UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Mama Fatima Singhateh, also lauded the efforts of the Philippine government “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.”

But a lot more needs to be done, Singhateh said, citing the dearth of information on the number of child trafficking cases and details on how the victims are exploited.

“It is essential to systematically collect reliable, centralized and disaggregated data by age, gender, ethnicity, disability including the number of prosecutions and convictions related to child sexual abuse cases,” she said.

The data, however, is hard to come by because online child abuse in the country remains a shadowy crime that families and even communities keep among themselves.

In many cases, parents willingly allow their children to be victimized. Mothers have justified pimping their children, saying there was no physical contact with the pedophiles anyway.

Mothers also will not hesitate to instill guilt in their children, constantly reminding them that the family will go hungry if they do not cooperate.

The lack of a monitoring mechanism has made it difficult to determine if RA 11930 was effective in curbing the rise in Osaec cases. But the signing of the implementing rules and regulations for RA 11930 last May is expected to finally allow the government to fully plan out a strategy that will protect children against online abuse.

At the same time, Meta, which runs Instagram, said it has been working “aggressively” to fight child exploitation.

It said its teams have dismantled 27 abusive networks between 2020 and 2022, and in January of this year shut down more than 490,000 accounts for violating Meta’s child safety policies.

Kaspersky, meanwhile, is encouraging parents “to stay informed and commit to sitting down with their kids extensively as it’s an effective way to keep their children responsible and safe digital citizens.”

ChildFund Philippines agreed with Kaspersky, saying parents or guardians should find the time to get more familiar with the internet so they can effectively monitor their children’s online activities.

Pedophile predators are constantly on the hunt for prey online. Protecting children from them should be everyone’s concern.