Cybersex is a big business in a city on the Filipino island of Cebu. To escape poverty, parents force their children to strip in front of webcams. City officials are fighting back in an attempt to prevent sexual exploitation from destroying a generation.
Behind the closed door of her office, Angeles Gairanod is sitting in front of her laptop, replaying the video that changed everything in her small city. The clip shows three girls lying naked on a bed in their hut. The girls are 11, 9 and three. What ensues is sexual abuse. Three minutes into it, their mother appears in the picture and also engages in acts of sexual abuse with her children. The video, shot in Gairanod’s city, not far from her office, is three years old.
It’s February 2014, she says after showing the video. “This sort of thing happens here every day.”
Gairanod, 53, is a petite woman with a bob hairstyle and pearl earrings, the deputy mayor of Cordova, a sleepy city on the eastern coast of the Filipino island of Cebu. The densely populated municipality of 53,000 also includes large numbers of children. Banana and mango trees grow along the roads. During the day, the men drive their rickshaws along gravel paths, and at night they go fishing in rowboats. The women do the laundry and cook rice over sooty fire pits. Scruffy dogs, some that hardly seem alive, lie beneath the trees. More than 40 percent of the population of Cordova lives below the poverty line. There are few cars and most of the homes here are wooden huts.
Gairanod says her city wasn’t a bad place before it gained worldwide notoriety as a production site for cybersex, and adults began selling their children on camera. Everything changed three years ago, when the children’s aunt, no longer able to stomach what was happening, brought a memory stick containing the film to her office.