MANILA, Nov 17 (PNA) — The Philippines and Australia launched on Tuesday a social protection program aimed to combat online sexual exploitation of Filipino children.

“This (online sexual exploitation) is an abhorrent crime… This (social protection) program will protect the Filipino children, prosecute the offenders, and promote the children’s interests and their rights,” said Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop during the Child Protection Program Launch at the Peninsula Hotel in Makati City.

The Australian government provided a USD2 million grant over a period of three years to support the Philippine government’s efforts to fight online sexual abuse and exploitation of children.

Bishop said the existence of online sexual abuse has increased due to digital advancements and the rise of social media, and is further compounded by the financial needs of the most vulnerable families.

In fact, cyberpornography is the most prevalent crime in the country, according to a report by the Philippine National Police in 2014.

For her part, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said online cyber pornography is “destroying the souls of the children.”

The program aims to install mechanisms for safeguarding Filipino children against online sexual exploitation, deliver justice to victims, and facilitate recovery of victims and their families through a three-fold “Protection-Prosecution-Promotion” approach.

It will assist and advocate the Congress’ passage of a “Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act” to protect the public from sex offenders.

It will also localize multi-sector quick response teams in “hot spots” like the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Cebu.

Other key components of the program are advocating child-friendly rules in family courts, multi-sector training of justice system actors, public information and education campaign of children’s rights against online sexual abuse and exploitation, and legal auditing of online child sexual abuse cases in courts.

Bishop, Soliman, Justice Secretary Alfredo Caguioa, Australian Embassy mission deputy head David Dutton, and other officials participated in the symbolic signing of a declaration of commitment to this cause.

The Australian government, in coordination with The Asia Foundation (TAF), partners with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to implement this program.

On top of the USD2 million grant, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provided USD200,000 to further support the program. Filane Mikee Cervantes/PNA