Fr. Shay Cullen
A few weeks ago, 69 Vietnamese victims of human trafficking were found in the Philippines. These migrants had been brought from Vietnam two at a time on a tourist visa by a syndicate and made to work for three years on low wages or none at all by human traffickers. They were then abandoned by their gang-masters, declared indigent and deported.
The Philippines is now a destination for low-paid or even slave labor as if it didn’t have enough itself. The Philippines is mostly a source of human trafficking victims both internal and international.
There is significant trafficking from the Philippines to South Korea using E6 visas and also to Japan as an entertainer. What happens to the thousands of young Filipino women there is anybody’s guess.
The Philippines is doing more to combat the trade in persons and has finally reached the US Tier 1 status and is among the top 39 countries whose government‘s fully meet the US minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This has only been achieved this 2016 after many years on the Tier 2 Watchlist. At one stage a few years ago, the Philippines was on the verge of dropping to Tier 3, a very low standard of compliance indeed.
The Trafficking in Persons Report for 2016 issued for every country in the world by the US State Department states that being on Tier 1 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 in towns and cities supported by permits issued by local mayors. Following the successful raids carried out by the Preda Foundation social workers with the National Bureau of Investigation on sex bars and clubs in the Subic and Olongapo area, a legal case is still ongoing against a US national accused of human trafficking and child abuse.
In that raid a few years ago, retired Australian federal police did surveillance posing as undercover tourists that led to the identity of customers and the operator. Fifteen minors and young girls were rescued from a sex bar and a sex hotel. About 12 sex bars have closed in the area.
Contrary to what you might expect, not all the girls want to be “rescued’ although many are victims of human trafficking. Many are convinced that it is their life job and the only thing they are fit for. They have been conditioned and coerced. Drugs controls some and the pushers are everywhere around the sex bars. Others fear of being jailed for non-payment of debts.
They borrow money from the club owner for drugs and seldom can pay off their debts and this debt bondage in the sex bar is a form of slavery. The young girls seldom have any money left for themselves. The club or bar owner or the pimp who earn money off them gives them little and charges them expenses.
The girls have to pay food and a bed space in a dorm at the back of the sex bar. 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 the slaves for hire or for sale.
Over a thousand young girls are available in the streets and clubs of Fields Avenue, Angeles City. These girls 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 had run away and ended up in 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 18 or older or they use the birth certificate of an older cousin or sister. In one video made on Fields Avenue by ABC New York, an aunt offered her 14-year old niece, a virgin, she said, 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 by is just as important as rescue and 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 and teachers and hotel staff on the anti-trafficking law and child protection law and how to report and prevent human trafficking.
Behind the human effort to save and help the vulnerable abused children who run from abuse in the home to the streets is advocating and campaigning for the equality and the rights and dignity of women and children. This is at the heart of the work against sex-trafficking and human degradation. We must stand up for these people and protect inalienable human rights.