MANILA: Filipino police have freed eight children from a house in Manila where they were allegedly sold for prostitution and forced to have sex for an online audience, authorities said Thursday.
Two people, including the alleged mastermind of the abuse Christopher Villanueva and the mother of three of the children, have been arrested after the raid in the Philippine capital on Wednesday night.
Villanueva is accused of forcing the children, all but one of them girls aged between 13 and 17, and another 18-year-old girl to have sex with him and each other in front of web cameras for watchers in Asia, the US and Europe.
Police, acting on a tip-off from the US Department of Homeland Security, found web cameras and laptops during the raid on his rundown house in Taguig, a southern Manila suburb.
“It is always shocking how people can be so perverse and callous when they abuse children,” Alex Nuqui, head of the National Bureau of Investigation’s anti-human trafficking division, said.
The mother of three of the abused children who lives nearby was also arrested, accused of forcing her children to engage in sex for money. The other five children are also thought to come from the local area.
The Philippines, where poor children are easy prey, has become a major hub for the billion-dollar global cybersex industry.
Online child abuse was the leading cyber-related crime in the Philippines last year, making up 46 percent of the 200 reported cases, according to the justice department.
Villanueva allegedly charged customers in the United States, Britain, Australia and Japan between $50-100 to watch the children having sex, Nuqui said.
The 33-year-old Filipino was caught after a US agent, posing as an online customer, struck a deal to sleep with one of the girls at his house for 5,000 pesos ($111).
Nuqui said Villanueva told the undercover US agent in an online chat: “They (the children) will fulfill all your fantasies. Come to the Philippines.
“His arrest is the second time in three months that US assistance has led Filipino authorities to cybersex suspects, as part of an international operation to stamp out pedophile rings run online.”
In February, a 51-year-old Australian, Gerard Peter Scully, was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing eight girls, including an infant, and murdering one of them.
In March, four Filipino suspects were arrested and two children were rescued in a suburban Manila raid.