By Ed Upright
LONDON, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Technological advances, including the spread of high-speed internet, have fuelled a surge in the Philippines of the sexual abuse of children as young as one years old in front of a live webcam, an anti-slavery group said.
Victims of this crime are often much younger than those trapped in other forms of modern slavery, said International Justice Mission (IJM), which started a campaign this week to raise awareness about cybersex trafficking.
"It's particularly brutal because it targets incredibly young boys and girls ... who are often being exploited for profit by the very people that should protect them - their parents," said IJM UK's chief executive David Westlake.
IJM said more than half the victims it has rescued have been between one and 12 years old.
The charity said one child it rescued was a seven-year-old boy who was made to perform sexual acts with his two-year-old sister in footage streamed to global viewers.
The United Nations children's agency UNICEF estimates 1.8 million children are trafficked into the sex trade every year - but this does not include cybersex trafficking.
The Philippines national police receive well over 2,000 referrals of potential online exploitation of children a month, according to the IJM.
The Philippine Department of Justice reported more than 8,000 referrals from the U.S.-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in the first four months of 2015.
IJM, whose campaign is called #NotOnMyScreen, said cybersex trafficking is a relatively low risk crime since it is committed in private in the home.
It said the widespread use of English in the Philippines was another reason why the crime has surged in the Southeast Asian country since viewers from around the world often give the victims instructions in English.
Westlake said perpetrators and viewers are protected by online anonymity and anyone can carry out the crime with just internet access and a webcam or a mobile phone.
"Although it happens over the internet, it's real abuse happening to real children right now," he said.
(Reporting by Ed Upright, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)