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MANILA (REUTERS) - The Philippines' fight to end cyber sex trafficking needs other countries to get tougher with sexual predators who pay to watch children being abused over webcam, a Filipina senator said.
Organisations such as the United Nations' children's agency (Unicef) say the Philippines is the epicentre of a growing cyber sex trafficking trade, with many children forced to perform sex acts, abused and raped by relatives in front of a webcam.
The poorest areas of the Philippines have the highest population growth; they face systemic undernourishment, poor education and health, and limited economic opportunities.
Nearly 20% of the Filipino population lives below the poverty line despite the country’s macroeconomic growth.
Adding to these factors is the hugely increased regulation and punishment of child sexual abuse in Western countries since the 1980s, which has very likely helped drive the growth of child prostitution and pornography in the Philippines and South-East Asia in general.
It was in this context that 17 British men and three Australians were arrested as part of an international police operation to disrupt a Philippines-based network that charged money to stream online video of children being sexually abused.
At least 400,000 people in the country - or one in 250 - are estimated to be trapped in modern slavery, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation.
The Philippines is considered a regional hotspot for trafficking - from domestic workers who are exploited and enslaved overseas to forced prostitution in the nation's booming sex industry and now to cyber sex trafficking.
It has been estimated that up to 80 households in the village are alleged to have been involved in the live streaming of child abuse.
NGOs report that tens of thousands of other children may be subject to similar abuse.