Latest posts by Julinda Gallego (see all)
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Teacher Emma called us to the kitchen and 35 pairs of little feet came running. It’s Wednesday, and everyone knows that we’ll get ice cream after lunch. Teacher Emma doesn’t even have to call us twice – ice cream day is everyone’s favorite day including mine.
While our teacher is serving us lunch, let me tell you about myself. I’ve been living here for ten months now. I used to live with Mommy, but I think her acting career took off so she had to let me stay here for a while. I saw her on TV the day after I arrived here. I remember that the show was TV Patrol and her acting was pretty good. Her tears seemed so real! She was saying that cybercrime is fine because no harm is being inflicted to the person physically and therefore they are not being abused. I remember it word by word because Mommy said it with conviction, the way she does when she wants me to do something I don’t want to do. She was about to say more but I didn’t hear it because Teacher Emma turned off the television and told me to play with the other kids instead.
(Every year, the number of children in the Philippines found engaging in cybersex activities dramatically rises. According to the Philippine National Police Anti Cybercrime Group (PNP-ACG) cybersex cases went from 51 in 2013 and 87 in 2014 to 136 cases in 2015.)
I didn’t use to be close with the other kids, but now we’re best friends and hang out all the time. I’m Candy, by the way, and I’m also an actress. At least, that’s what Mommy calls me – her little actress. I used to do a lot of acting back home and I did photo shoots, too! Sometimes I would wear pretty clothes and Mommy let me act silly, but most of the time, I wouldn’t wear anything and just do the poses she taught me. It was fun and one of the few times where Mommy was really nice to me. I also got to sign my name on the back of the photos before Mommy sent them to her friends. I think I was pretty famous. Mommy’s friends paid lots of money to watch me, or even to receive my signed photos. I know this because Mommy negotiated with them before she let me go onscreen. She never agreed to less than 25 dollars because she thinks I’m worth more than that. Looking back, I realize that 25 dollars is not a lot at all. Doctor Jen told me during one of our counselling sessions that I am priceless, and I think I prefer priceless over a few dollars.
(Payment ranges from $2-$200 per show, which is big money in a country that typically earns $2/day. Cybercrimes are mostly conducted in sex dens in people’s homes and operated by parents rather than criminal syndicates. In some neighbourhoods it has been considered a norm and a primary source of income for families.)
My favorite friend of Mommy is Uncle Allan. He’s Australian and he’s the one who sent me the pretty clothes that I wore on shoots. Most times he just wanted to talk to me while I tried on all his dresses and model them for him. Sometimes he would also ask me to dance, or we would play for an hour. The rules were simple; we talked for a while and then I took off everything I was wearing to be a copycat and do what he’s doing on camera. If Uncle Allan was happy with our game, he would send Mommy lots of money and reward me with more pretty dresses. He also talked about visiting me and playing in person and Mommy said he could as long as he pays my talent fee upfront. I really liked Uncle Allan, he’s a lot nicer than Mommy’s other friends who just stared at me while I was doing the acting that Mommy taught me.
(One of the main reasons for the country’s involvement in the billion dollar global industry is the widespread use of English language, which is needed in order to communicate with foreign clients. Another reason is the availability of internet, with most sex dens only comprising of laptops and a router.)
When I asked Teacher Emma if we could visit Uncle Allan, she told me that I’m not going to see him or any of my fans again. She said that Mommy’s local friends are in prison now, wherever that is, because they violated the Anti-Child Pornography Act (of 2009’s declaration), which was strengthened by the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (officially recorded as Republic Act No. 10175). I didn’t understand what it meant, but apparently it protects kids like me from exploitation and cyber-related child abuse.
I learned that Mommy’s friends are bad guys who did things that are punishable by law and they could be sentenced to a lifetime in prison and pay up a fine ranging from 100,000 to 2 million pesos. On top of all that, Teacher Emma said that Mommy’s foreign friends will be deported back to their home, which means that they would never be allowed to set foot in the Philippines again.
(Despite the existence of the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, it is very hard to implement. In fact, there have been only two convictions for this type of abuse in the Philippines. All other cases are still pending.)
Oh, right. I haven’t properly introduced Teacher Emma. She’s our primary teacher here at the Department of Social Welfare Development (DSWD). When I first arrived, she told me that she would ensure that my recovery, rehabilitation, and reintegration into society runs smooth and well and that I’ll be given shelter, counselling, medical help, livelihood and skills training, and education. So far, she has done all these and more. Teacher Emma is not only pretty and plenty smart, she’s very nice too. She said that she’ll keep me away from the bad guys and will help me start anew here. I really like her because she’s more attentive than Mommy and she doesn’t shout when I say I’m tired of playing.
Aside from Teacher Emma, I also really like Doctor Jen. She’s what you call a child psychiatrist and I meet with her every Wednesday for counselling. In the past ten months, she has taught me a lot of things including keeping all my clothes on at all times and no longer playing the way I was taught to. Her voice is very kind and soothing and I like sitting in her office just talking about random stuff.
(The psychological impact of cybersex is as damaging as physical abuse. Many exploited children have to deal with anxiety and depression issues and they cannot establish proper relations with other humans. Some start taking drugs at a very early age.)
Mommy hasn’t visited me in the ten months I’ve been here and I’m not allowed to visit her or leave the DSWD, but I don’t really mind. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t want to leave this place. It’s much, much better than being an actress at home, anyway. Here, my friends are my age and the playing that we do are fun and exciting. Besides, I get to go to school here – something I have never done when I was still living with Mommy. My favourite subject is Math. Just yesterday, I learned all about addition and received a star for acing the exam that followed. It was the first time that I received a star and my classmates clap for me for a job well done. I was so happy! Teacher Emma was pleased. I saw her flash the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, and she congratulated me for another job well done.
Whoops. Teacher Emma has already finished serving the food and as much as I like sharing my life story, I am much more interested at this point in finishing my lunch and getting my ice cream. I’ll tell you more about my life later, okay? Talk to you soon!
(Literary story inspired by news – http://news.abs-cbn.com/nation/regions/04/28/16/cops-arrest-mom-who-used-own-daughters-for-child-porn)
Written by Julinda Gallego