Children as young as two rescued from Philippine cybersex abuse dens

Bangkok: A mother has been arrested in the Philippines after she allegedly spent five years sending sexually explicit images of her two daughters to an Australian paedophile in the country's booming cybersex industry.

The youngest daughter was only 10 when Stephen James Sheriff, 46, of Cairns, started sending money to her mother in Mandaue City on the Philippine island of Cebu.

Nine months after Sheriff was arrested by the Queensland Police's ARGOS Child Abuse and Sexual Crime Group, Philippine police burst into the mother's house on May 27 and allegedly caught her live-streaming her now 15-year-old daughter performing sex acts for another paedophile.

The girl told Philippine journalists she had been praying for the abuse to stop.

In a separate case three days later, police stormed a house in Iligan city, a cybersex hotspot on the island of Mindanao, and allegedly caught five people in the act of live-streaming the sexual abuse of children aged two, six, eight and 15.

The suspects include the mother one of the children.

Video of the raid taken by the NGO International Justice Mission and obtained by Fairfax Media shows police running, guns drawn, along an alleyway before entering the house and leading away children and suspects.

General Liborio Carabbacan, of the Philippine police's Women and Children Protection Centre, said forensic examination of electronic devices seized from the house would help identify "multiple foreign perpetrators" - possibly Australians - who allegedly purchased child exploitation images and video from the suspects.

"Such information will be shared with international law enforcement," she said.

The mother arrested in the Cebu case faces charges including child abuse, human trafficking and cyber crime. She could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted.

The five suspects aged 15, 18, 22, 25, and 43 in the Iligan City case face similar charges.

Fairfax Media understands the Australian Federal Police and members of the ARGOS task force have identified other Australians who have bought view-on-demand child sex and abuse videos and images from the Philippines, as investigators work to expose dark web operators in the country, one of Asia's poorest.

Fairfax Media revealed in early May the AFP had played a key role in the rescue of three sisters aged eight, nine and 12 in Bacolod City, 720 kilometres south of Manila. Another Queensland man was arrested in connection with that operation.

On April 20, Philippine authorities, acting on an overseas tip, uncovered a major live-streaming child abuse and torture syndicate linked to predators in Australia, Canada and Europe, arresting 53-year-old American David Timothy Deakin.

Six children aged between two to 18 were rescued.

Authorities seized a mobile HD tablet containing more than 4000 contacts, numerous computers and hard drives.

Jon Rouse, head of the ARGOS task-force, described the behaviour of Sheriff, who has been convicted in Cairns District Court on eight counts relating to the exploitation of children, as "despicable".

"Sheriff may as well have been in the room with the kids. The fact he was seeing it in the virtual world is irrelevant???what happened to those kids happened because of him," he said.

Sheriff was sentenced to less than three years in prison.

Detective-Inspector Rouse said more cases of child cybersex are being uncovered because of the increasing capabilities of law enforcement agencies, including in tracing financial transactions.

"We are detecting it more because we are looking for it more," he said, adding that Australians have been known to be involved in the online sexual exploitation of children for almost a decade.

Asked whether the involvement of Australians was growing, Detective-Inspector Rouse said "it is already quite an established market".

The International Justice Mission (IJM) helped rescue 201 children who were forced to participate in online sexual exploitation between 2011 to May 2017.

More than half of the victims were under 12 and 70 per cent involved parents, relatives or close family friends of the victims.

Evelyn Pingul, IJM's director of communications in the Philippines, said the alarm needs to be sounded that online sexual exploitation of children has become an epidemic in the Philippines.

"We need the police to continue rescuing these children, we need the prosecution to continue convicting more sick criminals," she said.

IJM's National Director Samson Inocencio called for law enforcement agencies to be given more resources "to fight this horrific crime against children".

"We also need to have specialised after-care models to address the restoration of these young survivors," he said.

Rescued children are usually placed in the care of government child welfare agencies.

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The story Children as young as two rescued from Philippine cybersex abuse dens first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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