Thailand: Online Child-Sex Abuse Spreads at ‘Phenomenal’ Rate, UN Official Says

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2017-10-18
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171018-TH-abuse-620.jpg A police officer points to a computer in his office in San Jose, Calif., as he talks about tools used by child predators to store information, July 12, 2005.
AP

Child-sex abuse has been spreading at a phenomenal rate as pedophiles now stream their sexually exploitative materials through an overlay of online networks that cannot be easily accessed, a U.N. official told BenarNews.

More than 6,000 websites with child-related obscene content have recently been tracked down, but authorities believe there still are “a phenomenal amount” of inaccessible sites operated by pedophiles who use so-called dark nets, according to Neil Walsh, chief of the global program on cybercrime for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Dark nets are computer networks that can be accessed only with specific software that re-routes connections through layers of servers, allowing users to remain anonymous. Websites on the dark web are not indexed, meaning that online surfers will not see them through a Google search.

“Pedophiles sit in somewhere in the dark nets and access the Internet to release materials. The more we work harder to remove the contents, the more they make it harder to find it,” Walsh said. “Still, there is phenomenal amount out there.”

Walsh spoke to BenarNews while attending a conference in Bangkok titled “Effective Responses to Online Child Sexual Exploitation in Asia.”

During the three-day event that started Tuesday, Walsh said the rising use of the Internet in Thailand had made the country the “webcam center for child pornography,” stripping the Philippines of that notorious title.

The proliferation of smart phones in Thailand allows users easy access to illicit websites even from rural areas that have 4G signals, he said.

About 50 percent of Southeast Asia has Internet access, but the figure spikes to 58 percent in the Philippines, a hub for online sex abuse, while the number is growing in Thailand at about 67 percent, according to Reuters news service, which cited a recent study.

Thailand clamps down on pedophilia

UNODC, in a report released in August, noted the growing demand for livestreaming of child sex abuse in the Mekong region. It also underscored the shift in child-sex webcam centers from the Philippines to Thailand.

But a Thai police officer, who analyzes Internet crimes against minors, said online pedophiles could not hide in Thailand.

“After Thai government passed the law to fight child sexual abuse, we seriously enforced the rule of law, and those pedophiles escaped Thailand,” said police Col. Santipatn Prommajul, chief digital intelligence analyst for the Thai Internet Crime Against Children Task Force.

“We deported many pedophiles from Thailand,” he told BenarNews.

He blamed advances in technology, among other issues, for the growing cybercrimes.

At least 25 suspects have been prosecuted through the nation’s amended Computer-Related Crime Act, which was adopted by the junta-appointed legislature in December 2016, Santipatn said. He said 18 of the cases involved child pornography.

He said Thai police has been working closely with the FBI, the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the Virginia-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which provides the Thai police with weblinks to possible violations to the computer-crimes law.

Concerns on social media misuse

In a seven-day check on Bangkok, more than 3,600 individual Internet addresses had been identified sharing child exploitation material, Jon Rouse, a member of Taskforce Argos, an Australian police unit that targets online child sex abuse networks, told Reuters.

Rouse was also in Thailand to attend the conference in Bangkok.

Walsh told BenarNews that the UNODC had expressed its concerns about the misuse of online technology to sexually exploit children.

“The whole dynamic of online webcam has changed, where in the past we needed a camera to plug in to do this thing,” he said. “But now, it’s just a phone, laptop, tablet and that’s how many webcams in your home.”

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