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Keyboard predators: SE Asia's kids targeted by online paedophiles

AFP  |  Bangkok 

Southeast is in the grip of a fresh surge of paedophile activity with predators orchestrating and watching abuse on live-streaming sites and via webcams, and paying for it with near-untraceable cryptocurrency, victims and children's charities warn.

With widespread poverty, lax laws, and creaking judicial systems, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and the have long been seen as soft spots by foreign and local paedophiles seeking out underage sex in person.

Tougher policing and greater awareness has deterred some offenders, but has shifted the patterns of abuse in a region with growing access to internet and encrypted

Paedophiles can now use an array of -- including social networks, video-sharing sites, and the -- to direct and watch child rape and sexual abuse with anonymity, experts warn.

"Predators watch the rapes on large platforms that are not likely to close," said Francois Xavier Souchet, of Thai-based NGO

"It's live, nothing is recorded... everything is encrypted. They pay more and more in Bitcoins, encrypted money makes their transactions as secure as possible," he added.

This including Apple, Google, Microsoft, and are giving evidence to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA), which is being held in and will look at how to prevent as part of its remit.

Demand for child sexual abuse via is an increasing cause of human trafficking, according to a UN report, with suggestions has become a hub in the trade, as well as the

Cassie, a Filipina victim, said she was just 12 when she was forced to commit sexual acts -- both with an adult man and alone -- in front of a

She moved to to work as a but was exploited by her mother's employer. The torment went on for five years.

She said "I felt trapped, betrayed and alone. I was thinking, 'I want to die, I want to die because of this pain, but I can't'." Her abuser received a two year jail term in 2017.

Last month, advocacy and group (IJM) warned Philippine children were at risk of being forced into live streamed sex abuse, where paedophiles pay to direct so-called "shows" online.

"Easy access to the web and make the country a global hotspot for this problem," said IJM, noting that it is often parents or family members that organise or even commit the abuse.

drew attention to the problem using a computer-generated girl nicknamed "Sweetie" that hung out in chatrooms and was approached by about 20,000 people -- mostly men -- in a matter of weeks.

Last year a report by the found had increased by a third in 2017.

In March, a was arrested and charged in his native with rape, abuse of minors and possession of child pornography.

The 51-year-old, who worked in schools in Asia, is alleged to have befriended kids in a working-class neighbourhood before building a rapport on social networks, police sources told AFP.

The same month, prosecutors charged another Frenchman with ordering videos of rape and sexual assaults of Filipino children.

The suspect, a 55-year-old former police officer, was arrested after a seizure of computers and in the

In late April, former Andrew Whiddett, 70, was found guilty by a court of spending thousands of pounds paying for live-streamed sexual abuse of children from the Philippines.

The (NCA) estimates 80,000 people in the UK present some kind of sexual threat to

The cyber-abuse phenomenon is reaching "and Vietnam", warned Damian Kean, of the Thai-based NGO ECPAT, which specialises in combating the sexual exploitation of children.

In hyperconnected Vietnam, foreign paedophiles are increasingly targeting young victims online, often on

The communist state last year instated harsher penalties to combat the crime -- anyone guilty of molesting a child under 16 faces 12 years in prison, while child rape comes with a maximum sentence of death.

But catching a paedophile requires help from the communities within which they operate - communities which are often marginalised, poor and mistrustful.

Souchet of explained: "Particularly ethnic minority communities across the region do not trust local authorities.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, May 17 2019. 16:11 IST