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The Department of Education (DepEd) on Monday said it supports the protection of children from all forms of physical or mental violence, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment, and exploitation, including sexual abuse.

“As an institution dedicated to safeguarding the welfare of its school children and youth, we are deeply alarmed by the rise of cases of online sexual abuse and exploitation of children during the pandemic, including a reported students’online sex “Christmas sale” activity cited by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian,” the DepEd said in a statement.

Over the weekend, Gatchalian urged the DOJ Office of Cybercrime and the PNP Anti-Cybercrime Group to intensify their probe and crackdown on the sale of sensual photos and videos of students to raise funds for distance learning-related expenses.

It noted that such abuse and exploitation are prohibited under Republic Act (RA) No. 9775 or the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009, and RA No. 10175 or the “Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012”.

RA 9775 created the Inter-Agency Council Against Child Pornography (IACACP) composed of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as chairperson, with the heads of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Science and Technology (DOST), Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), among other agencies, as members.

The law also mandates IACACP to prevent and address child pornography while RA 10175 mandates the NBI and PNP to effectively enforce the provisions of RA 10175.

Supporting the work of the IACACP and other government agencies, the DepEd has launched several initiatives for the protection of children even before the pandemic.

“These rising cases of child exploitation and abuse call for better collaboration and cooperation among national agencies and local communities, especially in these difficult times. We must not let our children be exposed to such corrupt acts under any circumstances,” the DepEd said.

The agency enjoined all public and private elementary and secondary schools to establish and strengthen their respective Child Protection Committees (CPC).

“These CPCs must proactively initiate information dissemination programs and organize activities for the protection of children, as mandated by DepEd Order No. 40, s. 2012 or the Child Protection Policy,” it said.

It also initiated efforts to strengthen CPCs in schools by creating a Child Protection Unit/Office (CPU) in the Central Office with counterparts in the regional offices and school division offices that will support these school CPCs.

“This initiative is already under review by the Office of the Secretary,” it added.

Citing its implementation of flexible distance learning and academic ease measures to ensure that education will not be costly for our parents and learners, the DepEd reminded its direct stakeholders that gadgets or internet connections are not requirements for distance learning.

Public schools have implemented other alternative distance learning modalities such as modular, radio, and TV-based instruction depending on the available resources. (PNA)

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