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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Rising internet use in Southeast Asia is fuelling the spread of material that is abusive and sexually exploitative of children, particularly as growing numbers of young people put footage of themselves online, an Australian police expert said on Tuesday.
Regional internet availability is about 50 percent, a recent study showed, but the figure rises to 58 percent in the Philippines, a hub for online sex abuse, while in Thailand, where the problem is growing, it reaches 67 percent.
"You will only see that that will increase," said Jon Rouse, a member of "Taskforce Argos", an Australian police unit that targets online child sex abuse networks.
"The big problem we’re seeing at the moment is the proliferation of self-produced material by children. It’s just killing us," added Rouse, referring to children livestreaming themselves, whether at the instigation of a sex offender or a friend.
"That material then gets used by sex offenders against them."
In a seven-day check on Bangkok, more than 3,600 individual internet addresses had been identified sharing child exploitation material, said Rouse, who was speaking on the sidelines of a conference in the Thai capital.
Demand for live streaming of child sex abuse is a growing problem in the Mekong region, the United Nations said in August, as it pointed to a shift in child sex webcam centres from the Philippines to Thailand.
In 2016, the U.N. children’s agency said poor families in the Philippines were pushing their children into performing live sex online for paedophiles around the world, in a form of child slavery.
Online child abuse was constantly evolving, said Neil Walsh, who heads the global cybercrime programme of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
"If we say we are keeping it at bay we are probably not being honest with ourselves," he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Andrew R.C. Marshall; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)