Trafficking of street children for sexual exploitation is a heinous crime in most countries but flourishes nevertheless and it is difficult to get accurate figures since most of it is done in secret. However, estimates say that over 2 million are trafficked in Asia every year. Police and social services are inadequately trained, have low commitment and motivation to provide protection and are more focused on crimes against property rather that giving highest priority to crimes against people, especially crimes against women and children.
A majority of children in conflict with the law are street children and in many countries they are treated as adult suspects and held in cells with adult prisoners where they are vulnerable and frequently abused, sexually-exploited, beaten and tortured. They are too poor to have a legal defense or a family to come and care for them. They develop sores, sickness, tuberculoses, scabies and other diseases. They are malnourished, uneducated and are denied of basic rights – to exercise games, counseling and medical and dental treatment. The majority are street boys, some have committed offenses, mostly petty theft or robbery.
They are in need of a quality pastoral care that will get them released and provide help and protection. As Jesus told us in the Gospel, when we go to the prison to visit and help them we are meeting Christ, as if we’re face to face. “What you do to the poorest of my brothers and sisters you do to me.”
The plight of children in conflict with the law ought to be a priority in our pastoral care of street children. We can provide an alternative home for them and take legal action to have them released to a home where their dignity is respected and they can start life anew.
We need to work to change the attitude of society and that of the civil authorities where they give no value to the rights of the child. We need to take a stand for these kids so that they will be respected and helped. All too often they are frequently ignored by the Christian community and treated as vermin or pests by state authorities. Value-building among the officials will hopefully give the street children protection from abuse, unlawful detention and imprisonment and sexual exploitation.
The legal age of a child according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is 18 years old. Many of the children at risk that are victimized by the recruiters and traffickers are children that live continually or part time on the street of Asian cities. They are there because they are homeless, abandoned by impoverished parents or they are runaways from home because of hunger, neglect or physical or sexual abuse in the home. They are then further abused on the street by pimps and sold to sex tourists and pedophiles, local and foreign.
The international sex Mafia operates a billion dollar business by investing in sex bars & brothels and selling minors either on the street to sex tourists or in brothels. Some children are kept imprisoned in hidden houses and are delivered to hotel rooms by a pimp working for the syndicates. The business deal takes place over the phone and on the internet where sites offer young girls and boys for “escorts”. The world image of Philippine tourism is blighted by the sex tourism that is allowed to flourish with government issued permits and licenses.
Pimps recruit street children and create a fake “face-book” page as if made by the teenager. It shows these young teenagers, stating they are older than 18 and available for “marriage” or “intimate friendship”, but that is a way of attracting sex customers to make contact. Even parents sometimes sell their children to pimps and traffickers believing that the child will be part of a TV show. Instead the children are made to perform before a camera that is beamed to customers over the internet who pay by credit card.
The implementation of the anti-child pornography law is slow and uneven. Few Internet service providers have installed the software as required by Philippine law and their product is not child safe. Parents ought to be worried not knowing what their child is viewing on that computer or in the internet shop. It’s time to act and protect the children.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a founder of PREDA.org - a nonprofit dedicated to ending the exploitation of children.