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Countering human trafficking

A few weeks ago, 69 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking were found in The Philippines. They had been brought from Vietnam two at a time on tourist visas by a syndicate and made to work for three years, on low wages or none at all, by human traffickers.

The whole group was then abandoned by the gang-masters, declared indigent and deported.

The Philippines is now a destination for low-paid or even slave labour, as if it doesn’t have enough of its own! 

In the past, it has mostly been a source of victims for human trafficking, both internal and international, but now it is taking on a dual role.

There is significant trafficking from The Philippines to South Korea using E6 visas and also to Japan as entertainers.

What happens to the thousands of young Filipino women in those places is anybody’s guess.

Currently, The Philippines is doing more to combat the trade in human persons and has finally reached the United States of America (US) Tier One status, among the top 39 countries that fully comply with the US minimum standard for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

This has only been achieved this year, after spending many years on the Tier 2 Watchlist. 

At one stage a few years ago, it was on the verge of dropping to Tier 3, an extremely low standard of compliance indeed.

The Trafficking in Persons Report for 2016, which is issued for every country in the world by the US State Department, states that being on Tier One does not mean there is no human trafficking, just that the government is meeting the minimum standards.

It is in fact a growing problem, as the sex trade expands into towns and cities of the Pearl of the Orient Seas through the support of permits issued by local mayors.

Following successful raids on sex bars and clubs in the Subic and Olongapo area carried out by social workers from the PREDA Foundation together with the National Bureau of Investigation, a legal case has been mounted against a US national who has been accused of human trafficking and child abuse.

In the raid, retired Australian federal police officers did surveillance by posing as undercover tourists.

The evidence they gathered led to the identity of the customers and the operators being discovered.

Fifteen minors and young girls were rescued from one sex bar and a sex hotel. About 12 sex bars have now been closed in the area.

Contrary to what you may expect, not all the girls want to be rescued, although many are victims of human trafficking, as they are convinced that it is their life job and the only thing they are fit for.

They have been conditioned and coerced. Drugs control some and the pushers are everywhere around the sex bars. Others fear being jailed for non-payment of debts.

They borrow money from the club owner for drugs and can seldom pay off their debts, making this a situation of debt bondage, which is a form of slavery.

The young girls seldom have any money left for themselves. The club owner or the pimp, who takes their money off them gives them little in return and charges them high expenses.

They have to pay for food and bed space in a dormitory at the back of the sex bar. Then they buy drugs to make life bearable. When they do pole dancing, they have to pay for an ID card with a number and a bikini. The customer calls them out by number if he wants them.

It is just a flashy nightclub scene, a glitzy gallery of human persons for sale. In that respect, it is like the slave traders of old presenting their wares for hire or for sale.

Over a thousand young girls are available in the streets and clubs of Fields Avenue, Angeles City. They are trafficked from the poorer provinces of Samar and Leyte. Others are runaways from Manila.

Many have been sexually abused in their own homes as young girls and run away, ending up under the control of a pimp who traffics them into a sex bar.

The minors, those under 18, cannot by law work in a sex bar. But many have fake documents showing them to be 18 or older, or they use the birth certificate of an older cousin or sister.

In one video made on Fields Avenue by the ABC from New York, an aunt offered her 14-year-old niece, who she claimed was a virgin, to the undercover reporters.

The girls have no alternative and do not see a way out to a better life. Some cannot imagine a better life. They live abandoned and hopeless. That’s why early intervention to help the vulnerable abused child is the best form of prevention of human trafficking.

Prevention is just as important as rescue to the healing of the victims. When government works with civil society, the best results are seen.

A PREDA Foundation human rights education team is training government officials, parents, teachers and hotel staff on the ins and outs of the anti-trafficking and child protection laws, as well as on how to report and prevent human trafficking.

Behind the human effort being made to save and help the vulnerable abused children who run from abuse in the home to the streets, is an advocacy campaign for the equality and rights and dignity of women and children.

This is at the heart of work against sex-trafficking and human degradation. We must stand up for these people and protect their inalienable human rights.


Father Shay Cullen