Letter From Silas Balraj
Vice President, Asia Region
“He who promised is faithful” is drawn from Hebrews 10:23 (NIV). This verse was chosen by our Asia family as the theme for fiscal year 2020 (FY20). Now, looking back, I believe wholeheartedly this verse fully represents the last corporate year for Asia, and because of his great faithfulness, we invite you to read this report.
While the second half of FY20 was impacted by the global pandemic, we stand amazed that because of God’s faithfulness, we can now celebrate every story, every testimony, every change and every breakthrough as a gift from our almighty God, who graciously led and guided us.
Throughout the pandemic crisis our Asia programs have experienced unique, necessary and powerful breakthroughs. For example, we developed new relationships with local government entities in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh from pure, mutual desires to help address local community needs due to the spread of COVID-19. In Thailand, we saw churches take initiative in developing strategic alliances with local and likeminded civic, community, government and medical groups to help children and families on the Thailand-Myanmar border gain access to medical care. In Indonesia, we saw the passion of a pastor’s heart for his province that had a high divorce rate among its Christian community. Through this pastor’s dedication to provide family discipleship training to his congregation, the number of broken families is now decreasing. And then, in the Philippines, we saw the churches take a stand to fight the disturbing rise of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC).
This past year has been one of commitment and engagement, from new affiliations with government groups, to creative ideas, to providing medical help, family discipleship training and innovative ways to fight child exploitation — all of which were lived out with a determination to make a difference. I am so grateful to every Compassion Asia Regional and National Office staff for their persistent passion to serve and support the Church.
So, on behalf of our children, youth, Frontline Church Partners, supporters and staff, we invite you to “taste” the faithfulness of our God as represented in this report, and as received each day in the ministry of Compassion’s Asia Region. We are now excited to see how God is going to lead the ministry in Asia into the future; a future we believe will be amazing and already planned and prepared by His sovereign hands.
To God be all the glory for faithful is he who promised!
In Christ alone,
Vice President, Asia Region
Read the Stories
Fighting Evil: The Battle Against the Rise of Child Exploitation During COVID-19
by Edwin Estioko
The Philippines is facing a crisis — one that is rising every day as a result of the nationwide quarantine to contain the recent coronavirus. The crisis: the number of online sexual exploitation crimes against children has tripled during the quarantine period.
This is according to the Child Rights Network — a group that calls for Filipinos to guard against the online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) in light of the spike during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that the Philippines has become the global epicenter of the livestream sexual abuse trade. What’s more, during COVID-19, many of these criminal activities are increasing because perpetrators are taking advantage of the fact that more people are staying home and using the internet more than usual. These factors contribute to an even more heightened risk of child exploitation.
What is OSEC and why is it rampant in the Philippines?
OSEC is a growing internet crime that involves the abuse of children being videotaped and streamed to predators around the world. Pedophiles often pay “facilitators” to sexually abuse children while videotaping the act via online livestream. These “facilitators” may be members of trafficking groups, but sadly are also relatives and even parents of the child victims. Some of them handle online transactions after convincing and coercing children in their care into compliance. The International Justice Mission (IJM) in the Philippines believes that OSEC is “the darkest form of exploitation against our children because it involves family members. About 38% of the time, the parents are involved,” said Alex Mallillin, an IJM representative in the Philippines.
IJM believes the Philippines is a hot spot for OSEC because of the wide use of English, easy, cheap internet connections, inexpensive second-hand mobile phones, widespread international cash transfer systems, and most vital of all, pressing poverty that has even been heightened by the pandemic. OSEC promises quick money. A family in poverty could earn in a week what they could not normally make in a year.
In July 2018, Compassion Philippines began partnering with IJM to fight the online sexual exploitation of children together. “I am aware that the same group that we are ministering to — children in poverty — is the same group that is being targeted by the perpetrators of OSEC because they are poor and desperate,” said Noel Pabiona, National Director of Compassion Philippines.
How is Compassion Philippines responding to the increased threat?
Compassion Philippines launched a child protection awareness campaign online immediately after the quarantine restrictions were implemented in March 2020. The campaign includes online reminders, seminars, and discussions with local experts such as Alex Mallillin of IJM and Adesty Dulawan, clinical supervisor of World Hope International.
During an online training on July 9, Adesty shared alarming statistics. She said 90% of Filipino children aged 7-12 years old regularly use the internet and 40% of them have chatted with strangers online. Of the group, 2.5% of Filipino children have been streamed nude online, and 80% are at risk of sexual abuse, sexual extortion or cyber-bullying.
Several Compassion Frontline Church Partners across the islands participated in the seminars, including Lorlisa Burlat, a church leader at Roxas Donamis child development center. Lorlisa said, “We find the seminars most relevant. It challenged us to intensify our information and education campaign, and empower parents to be the prime protector of their children. We recognize the crucial role of families [in preventing online sexual exploitation].”
Also in attendance was Imelda Cabarles, Project Director of PH0981 Aroroy Baptist Church.
“Our child development workers need to work hard in monitoring the sponsored children,” she said. I really appreciate the National Office for providing opportunities for us to attend online workshops like this one. I will echo the training to all our staff members at the center and raise awareness.”
Juan Claros, a child development worker at Narra Wesleyan Church also appreciates the seminars. He said, “A family approach is best. We need to strengthen family relationships on the ground and implement Compassion’s program well. I believe, because we focus on the spiritual well-being of children and their parents, we can fight OSEC because we have the best practice and advocacy among non-governmental organizations (NGO).”
From these online trainings, Frontline Church Partners have been able to initiate local activities to educate church staff, workers, leaders, pastors, and parents on the prevention and detection of OSEC.
How does Compassion’s program address the problem of OSEC?
Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program addresses the main factor that drives OSEC — poverty. Adesty said, “Child victims mostly come from very poor families. Their parents have no income or transitory jobs. OSEC is just a result of poverty and hunger. The problem is with the system, not the child.”
Compassion’s mission to release children from poverty in Jesus’ name is more real, relevant, and urgent in light of OSEC and its prevalence in the Philippines. “Our programs and initiatives in Compassion are always mindful of protecting children,” said Mary Ann Manzano, Child Protection Specialist for Compassion Philippines. “The dangers are real, and what we do to protect the children is real, too. We advised our Frontline Church Partners to be vigilant in monitoring the children and youth to prevent abuse incidents from happening," Mary Ann continued. "If ever there will be cases, Frontline Church Partners are instructed to report any suspected or alleged abuse to local authorities and the National Office.”
During the quarantine restrictions, Compassion's Frontline Church Partners have acted swiftly, providing online and modular lessons and activities to all children in the program around the country so that there is no place for online evil to enter their homes. Through the awareness seminars and staff's individual knowledge of each sponsored child, their vigilance will help protect precious childhoods.