A transnational investigation into live streaming of sexual abuse of children in the Philippines has led to 17 arrests of UK nationals, who are among offenders from 12 countries, and the identification of 15 victims of child sex abuse. 

Additional ongoing investigations have identified 733 suspects, 139 of whom are in the UK, according to the report released by UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).

The investigations, which revealed an alarming picture of dedicated and organised live online child abuse offences orchestrated and facilitated by a crime group in the Philippines, cite cases of British nationals Timothy Ford from Northamptonshire and Thomas Owen in Merseyside. 

Investigations revealed that Thomas Owen was in possession of nearly four million indecent images of children, whilst Ford paid for live abuse of children and had plans to move to the Philippines to set up an internet cafe. A separate investigation revealed information on Michael Eller, a registered sex offender from Hertfordshire, who was sentenced only last month to 14 years, with  a 20-year sexual offences prevention order, after he pleaded guilty to 5 charges of arranging sex offences involving children as young as 3 years old. Eller admitted to possessing indecent photographs of a child and breaching a sexual offences prevention order. 

ECPAT UK expresses great concerns with the rapid and unchecked evolution of online sexual exploitation and abuse of children, which is now more widespread and varied. Starting from the creation and sharing of illegal pornographic images of children and videos of children performing sex acts to the emerging trend of constraining children to perform live sex acts over video streaming websites. This represents a new form of child sex tourism. Offenders are now able to abuse children in other countries without having to leave their own homes. UK nationals who are known sex offenders and who may have restrictions placed on their movements out of the country are still able to carry out abuse of vulnerable children abroad through the use of a computer and basic internet access. 

Demands from individuals mainly from the richer nations are exploiting the vulnerability of poor communities and children, and are taking advantage of families’ disadvantaged socio-economic situations. The growing demand was recently revealed in a sting operation carried out by Terre des Hommes in the Netherlands in which a computer-generated image of a 10 year old girl “Sweetie” was contacted by 20,000 people, mainly men. 110 were from the UK, who were willing to pay the child to perform sex acts on webcam. 

With the increase in the reach of the internet across the globe (globally there are 2.4 billion internet users), the proliferation of social networking sites and access in mobile devices such as smart phones, laptops and tablets the threats of child sexual exploitation and abuse are not only real but likely to increase, with individuals then seeking contact with children to abuse in their own country. Online contact is frequently the precursor to physical contact, and children everywhere are at a high risk of physical sexual abuse. 

Commenting on the investigations findings, Bharti Patel, CEO, ECPAT UK said: 

“ECPAT UK commends the joint investigation by the NCA, Australian Federal Police and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in their efforts to curb this highly dangerous form of abuse of some of the world’s most vulnerable children and for bringing to justice the perpetrators of such heinous crimes against children. But we would like to see actions for effective justice for the child victims of abuse to include, in addition to their right to criminal justice, their rights to recovery and reparation in the form of compensation. Sexual abuse and exploitation is extremely damaging and severely traumatic for children. This means providing victims and their guardian’s with information on the evidence gathered and support to enable them to claim an effective remedy for their abuse. 

“There is also a need to assess the causes and extent of poverty which may lead to child trafficking, exploitation and abuse, as well as forcing some parents to put their own children up for sale and abuse. There is a need for national and international actors to put into practice solutions to address deep seated poverty of some communities in countries like the Philippines, and provide long term financial alternatives to child exploitation, so that parents have an alternative.”