We need to declare a war on child sex crime to save thousands of children who are victims of rape and commercial sexual exploitation. A hundred thousand minors are estimated to be trafficked every year into the sex dens of iniquity in the Philippines. There they are raped and abused and addicted to drugs. The drugs makes them weak, docile and submissive and that’s what the sex abusers wants and pays for- a weak vulnerable child over whom they have total power.
The girls are forced to pay for their board and lodging and food at high price and for the drugs. They are caught in a web of debt from which there is almost no escape. They are caught in debt bondage and there is no escape in most cases. There is no question that government officials are more interested in promoting the sex bars, traffickers and pimps to ply their abusive trade in buying and selling human beings, mostly children, than in curbing the trade. They issue the operating permit so the clubs can flourish. They are unwilling to close down a sex bar because they attract local and foreign tourists willing to spend big money and these politicians have interests in the sex bars. Minors are especially victimized, groomed and lured into the sex business.
That’s what happened to 14-year old Dee who was groomed online over her cell phone through text messages by a so-called boyfriend with whom she had an imagined infatuation and believed that she loved him and he loved her. This is a favorite grooming tactic of the human trafficker and the abuser. Dee fell for it. She was lured to a house and went with some of her friends. There she met Johnrey, her so called texting lover. There was a party and soon he had sexually assaulted her. She did not complain but thought that it was sexual-love and it was ok. This brainwashing of minors is common and brings them on the road to sex slavery and commercial sexual exploitation. Dee was then encouraged to have sex, drugs and alcohol with other friends of Johnrey. The teenager was one of the hundred thousand abused children sold into the sex industry in the Philippines. Soon, she was being sold to more customers and it was the end of any childhood for her. Real life had ended.
The main customers of the sex trade are the tourists from abroad. They come to Southeast Asia and especially the Philippines because they know that while some sex tourists are arrested and some are set up for exploitation by the corrupt police, they believe they can easily get away with sexually exploiting and abusing a child by paying bribes.
There is also strong evidence that the incidence of cyber-sex crimes or online sexual exploitation of children where very young Filipino children are coerced to perform sex acts for live internet broadcast to paying foreigners is increasing. A recent study conducted by UNICEF titled Perils and Possibilities: Growing up online reveals that globally there are around 75,000 child predators online at anytime and many of them are trying to contact children in the Philippines. In 2015, the Philippines Office of Cybercrime received 12,374 cyber tips from the US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Also the number of criminal cases of live stream child abuse in the Philippines is rising, from 57 in 2013, to 89 in 2014, and 167 in 2015.
Cyber sex crimes are very difficult to track as it is conducted in inconspicuous places such as in residential areas as long as there is an internet connection and oftentimes parents and relatives of the child-victims are also involved in the online abuse of the victims. There is a growing acceptance that this is an Ok form of earning money by bringing their children to be videoed live on the internet.
A study published early in 2016 conducted by the Philippine Center for Women’s Resources (CWR) estimates that every 53 minutes, a woman or child is raped and that seven in 10 victims of violence were children. The CWR report further says that despite the alarming number, victims could hardly find help. Without support, aggravated by the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators they are helpless. Besides they don’t know their rights and how to seek redress, get help and make complaints. Violence against women is prevalent and they need to have knowledge of their rights and a contact organization to get help.
Above all we need to get help for the children who are on the front target line of the human traffickers like Dee. If it were not for the help of the Preda Foundation, she would have been lost to the sex trade forever. There, the child loses self-respect and value. They come to believe that this is the only thing they can do to earn money to pay her debts. But Dee got help and was rescued from the brothel and brought to the Preda home for girls where she had a life changing experience. Today, she is a healthy young woman reunited with her family and going to school.
But of the hundred thousand, there are so many more to be saved and much more preventive education and social campaigning. That is the way to wake up the conscience of the nation to the fact that the commercial sexual exploitation of children and young women is already an accepted important part of the economy. It is a business from which the rich greatly profit. We have to speak out and stand against it and declare the dignity of every child and woman.
Rev. Shay Cullen is the co-founder of PREDA - a nonprofit dedicated to the welfare of children.