Human trafficking is a horrific crime against millions of people, fisher-folks, agricultural workers and especially against women and children and it is increasing in the Philippines. There are 4.5 million people victimized by human traffickers annually around the world. But it could be much more since it is a hidden crime. It is the modern slavery and a crime against humanity. The legal age of a child is 18 years old and below.
The most vulnerable are young women and minors who are lured or forced into the sex trade by human traffickers and sex bar owners and pimps. It is a dehumanizing experience for all victims especially the child victims most of whom are 15 to 17 years of age. It is estimated that 33 percent of the 4.5 million victims are minors. Once they fall into the hands and the control of the traffickers, they are powerless. They become captives. They are taken from villages and cash loans given to their parents to be repaid from the earnings of the child in promised jobs.
However the jobs turns out to be sex work in sex bars where they are raped and abused and made into sex workers with many customers a night. It’s a living nightmare, a cruel existence with no escape. The young women and children are forever in debt. They are bonded labor, never able to leave and living in fear of being jailed for non-payment of debt. They pay for food and lodging and then for drugs when they are addicted.
Almost 70 percent of trafficked and sexually abused children and young girls begin their vulnerability as victims of domestic sexual abuse from as young as 13 and 14 years of age. Their abusers are relatives or neighbors, live-in partners of the mothers, their biological fathers, uncles or grandfathers. The children cannot endure the abuse. They are threatened with harm if they tell anyone and are frightened to report the sexual abuse to anyone. Then some run away unable to endure the abuse and live on the street and are taken by human traffickers.
Eventually, some do tell their trusted teacher or a friend or relative. They tell someone they trust usually a teacher, a school friend or their older sister or mother. However not all mothers will believe the child or choose not to as the man, a live-in partner, or her husband, is providing her with money. Then the child victims run away from home. They are vulnerable wandering alone on the streets or in public parks. They are picked up by pimps and traffickers who offer them food and shelter. It is estimated that one hundred thousand children under 18 of age are trafficked into the sex business yearly in the Philippines, according to UNICEF. Many more are sexually abused on live-cam on the internet.
The sex industry thrives also on young girls recruited by human traffickers who take them from their villages and sell them into the thriving and ever increasing sex bars and brothels. This goes on right before the eyes of the authorities and every sex bar operates with a mayor’s permit wherever it is. It might be said the state approves the industry even though prostitution itself is illegal and it’s a crime under Republic Act 7610 to have a minor in a sex bar. Proving the child is underage is the challenge for those who would save them. The government authorities don’t screen the sex workers except for infectious diseases. They are forced to go to a social hygiene clinic and at times forced to have abortions. This is illegal but the authorities turn a blind eye to these crimes as it is in their interest to have a thriving sex industry from which some benefit.
The victims of human trafficking are traumatized, abused, and trapped. After months of abuse and enslavement, she is dependent on drugs for which she has to pay. This adds to her debts and she comes to accept her fate as it is. The drugs keep her submissive, cooperative and docile when being abused by customers. She is forever in debt. The minors are trained to have a “loyalty” to their pimp or “master.” Contrary to what one might expect, not all the girls trafficked want to be “rescued’ or saved from the sex bars. The bar owners convince them that it is their life job and the only thing they are fit for and if they get saved they have to pay back their debts. They have been conditioned and coerced and threatened. It is common that they have a low self-esteem and accept their fate as inevitable.
The root causes of human trafficking that allow it to thrive is that it is not seen as a serious issue or as a “real” crime even though the Philippine law says it is. The law in the Philippines is usually what the authorities choose it to be.
People in general give little value to children that are not their own. The street children are seen as petty criminals and expendable. The minors are not considered victims by the police if found in sex bars but are considered guilty of a crime and fall into police power are then sexually exploited by the corrupt police. They are threatened with criminal charges into giving sexual favors in some cases.
The Philippine Anti-Child Pornography Law of 2009 mandates Internet service providers (ISPs) to block child porn online. The Philippine National Telecommunications Commission has to implement the law. Foreign governments must ban convicted pedophiles from travelling abroad where they can abuse women and children- girls and boys- with impunity. This is something we can do. Write your government today.
Spero News columnist Rev. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA -- a nonprofit dedicated to protecting vulnerable children.