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Securing the Digital Realm for Children: Countering AI Risks

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Amidst the observance of the National Awareness Week for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse in the Philippines, Senator Win Gatchalian has drawn attention to the growing concern of artificial intelligence (AI) exacerbating online sexual abuse and exploitation of children (OSAEC) and called upon the government to take decisive action.

Protecting children from detrimental online content has evolved into a more complex challenge with the emergence of AI-driven tools capable of manipulating and fabricating materials. Any successful strategy requires a multifaceted approach that combines technological solutions, regulatory frameworks, and parental supervision.

The proliferation of AI tools poses a significant danger to children, amplifying risks related to privacy, online safety, and psychological well-being. One primary concern is the potential for AI algorithms to collect and analyse vast amounts of personal data from children without their consent, leading to privacy breaches and exploitation.

Moreover, AI-powered content recommendation systems may inadvertently expose children to inappropriate or harmful material, such as explicit content, violence, or extremist ideologies, by amplifying their exposure to such content based on their browsing habits or preferences.

Addressing the alarming rise in AI-driven threats, including the manipulation of children’s images, Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) Undersecretary Angelo Tapales underscored the urgent need for vigilance, highlighting the potential for AI to escalate child exploitation.

Senator Gatchalian, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, emphasised the importance of addressing these evolving threats, stressing the need for legal accountability for those who exploit children through technology. He highlighted existing legislation, including the Anti-OSAEC and Anti-CSAEM Act (Republic Act No. 11930) and the Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2022 (Republic Act No. 11862), and the allocation of P30 million in the 2024 national budget for Anti-Trafficking in Persons Enforcement.

In addition to legislative measures, Senator Gatchalian urged parents to closely monitor their children’s online activities, recognising the potential for gadgets to facilitate exploitation. Citing revelations from a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) hearing, which identified the Philippines as the second-largest hotspot of OSAEC globally, Senator Gatchalian advocated for enhanced international cooperation to combat this pervasive issue.

As the nation grapples with the multifaceted challenges posed by AI-enabled child exploitation, increased awareness, legislative action, and proactive parental supervision are essential in safeguarding the well-being of children in the digital age.

The Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) has sounded the alarm on the escalating threat of child sexual abuse and exploitation exacerbated by the emergence of AI technologies. Despite no reported cases in the Philippines as of yet, CWC Executive Director Angelo Tapales stressed the urgent need for vigilance as AI-generated materials proliferate globally, potentially leading to dire consequences such as child suicide.

Tapales urged parents and guardians to prioritise awareness, responsible internet usage, and adult training to shield children from harmful online content and enhance digital literacy, underscoring the critical importance of proactive measures in safeguarding vulnerable minors from the dangers of the digital landscape.

In addition to the AI-related concerns, recent reports have unveiled a troubling surge in online trafficking and exploitation of Filipino children. With nearly half a million children trafficked online via live streaming in 2022, the International Justice Mission (IJM) revealed alarming trends where perpetrators, often known to the victims, produce sexual exploitation materials.

Furthermore, data from the Philippine National Police’s Women and Children’s Protection Center highlighted over 17,600 reported cases of child rights violations in 2023, with a significant portion involving online sexual abuse and exploitation.

These developments underscore the pressing need for comprehensive legislative reforms and technological advancements to combat the evolving threats posed by digital platforms and ensure the safety and well-being of children in the digital age.


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