IBABAO, Philippines – In a remote Philippine village, toddlers played oblivious at a nursery as the house next door became part of a horrifying child pornography ring, with live footage of children performing sex acts being streamed online to paedophiles around the world.
The depraved scenes in the bungalow were being repeated in many homes throughout Ibabao, a secluded community on Cebu island where Internet child pornography had for some of its 5,000 residents become more lucrative than fishing or factory work.
“In the beginning I was shocked, I could not believe this was happening in my town,” mayor Adelino Sitoy told AFP last week, shortly after police announced they had cracked a global live-streaming paedophile ring in which Ibabao was a key source of the child pornography.
But while the village is currently in the spotlight, authorities and child rights advocates say the fast-growing global industry is infecting many parts of the mostly poor Philippines, with thousands of children having been abused.
At first look the coastal community of Ibabao, 550 kilometres (340 miles) south of Manila, is a typical close-knit rural Philippine village, where many of the long-time residents are relatives or enjoy close and longstanding ties.
In scenes echoed across the devoutly Catholic Philippines, its residents regularly attend masses held in quaint chapels along narrow footpaths and dirt roads.
Parents sell children for online sex
But police and authorities said that behind the closed doors of the tiny wooden and brick homes, many parents directed their children for sex videos in front of webcams connected via the Internet to paying paedophiles overseas.
Other children were lured into the homes of neighbours and forced to perform sex acts in front of webcams, they said.
Sitoy said the trade thrived because children were locked secretly inside homes, as well as Ibabao’s remote location and the fact some elected village leaders with relatives involved ignored the crimes.
But some of the videos eventually found their way into the computer files of a known British paedophile two years ago, triggering a global manhunt to track down the perpetrators.