The Australian Federal Police has helped Filipino authorities rescue four girls and arrest three women for allegedly livestreaming explicit videos of children to men in Australia and the United States. Police say better internet access is leading to more livestream abuse.
Three sisters aged 8, 9 and 12, and an 11-year-old found in a separate rescue, were rescued and are now in a shelter for abused children while the women face prosecution.
The operation underscores a rapidly-growing crime in which children, even toddlers, are made to remove their clothes and touch themselves in obscene ways while adults train video cameras on them in exchange for payment from paedophiles abroad.
Police in the Philippines are collaborating with their counterparts in Europe, Australia and the US to investigate and prosecute.
The AFP and US FBI separately provided Filipino authorities with information that led to the arrests of a mother and two other women on May 5.
They were making the girls engage in sexually explicit acts while men in Australia and the US watched.
The women have been charged with human trafficking, child abuse, child pornography and cybercrime.
'The children were innocent'
Police officer Arlyn Torrendon said she was part of a team that rescued three of the children and arrested the three women, including the mother of the siblings, in a house in Bacolod city on an island about 717 kilometres south of Manila.
"The children were innocent," Ms Torrendon said.
She said the children came from an impoverished family, and their mother was a widow.
Liborio Carabbacan, at the National Police Women and Children Protection Centre, said the incidents were increasing in the Philippines because many people were gaining access to the internet and English fluency was common, making it possible to communicate with would-be customers.
He said parents and relatives, motivated by greed, were often not even aware that it was against the law to exploit their children.
Crimes hidden as tech use grows
The livestream abuse happens in many of the country's densely-populated, impoverished neighbourhoods, said attorney Gideon Cauton, who works with the non-profit International Justice Mission.
The organisation provides social workers, shelters, lawyers and even former US police detectives to local law enforcement, who do not have enough resources to tackle all cases of online sexual exploitation of children.
He said the proliferation of pocket wi-fi, mobile phone internet and other technologies had driven the crimes further behind the scenes.
"This type of crime is really hidden," he said.
The arrests came just two weeks after Filipino authorities raided the home of an American man suspected of similar cybersex crimes.
More child porn predators arrested, victims rescued Associated Press May 12, 2017