Monday, February 18, 2008

Trafficking Victims Are Getting Younger

Photographs of young Filipina women hired as overseas workers. Though trained as entertainers, many face pressures to enter the sex industry.

From the Sun Star:

Philippines- The victims of human trafficking are getting younger and younger as more and more women fall prey to the false promises of people offering them a better life.

Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. (VFFI) president Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda revealed this in a video shown during a media training workshop conducted by the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD) and the Asia Foundation last week at Parklane International Hotel.

Asked to elaborate, Ligaya Abadesco, VFFI field coordinator for Cebu and Dumaguete, told Sun.Star Cebu that in the past, the victims that the VFFI intercepted at seaports and brought to its halfway houses for temporary shelter and counseling were adults.

But in recent years, the VFFI has been intercepting 14- and 15-year-olds.

She explained that traffickers have been recruiting younger and younger victims because they command higher prices in the sex trade.

Republic Act 9208 or “The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003” defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer or harboring, or receipt of persons with or without the victim’s consent or knowledge by means of threat, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or abuse of power for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation includes prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude or the removal or sale of organs.


During the forum, VFFI regional coordinator for the Visayas Vicente Abadesco said traffickers target women and children from 12-22 years old.

The women are transported from the rural areas—usually in the Visayas and Mindanao—where they came from, to urban areas in the country or abroad where, instead of the decent jobs in factories or restaurants they were promised, they find themselves working as prostitutes in brothels.

Abadesco said it is difficult to tell exactly how many women and children have been trafficked because of the illegal and covert nature of the activity, aside from the fact that women who are trafficked usually change their names.

But from July 2001 to June 2007 alone, the VFFI intercepted and provided halfway house services to some 7,996 victims.

The problem is much bigger though.

The United Nations estimates that there may already have been anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 victims of human trafficking from the Philippines.

Clueless on rights

The difficulty in tracking victims also comes amid the low level of consciousness of people about the law and their rights, and the prevailing attitude of communities that people have a right to migrate to seek a better life.

Red Batario, executive director of the CCJD, said that in some cases it is the parents of the victims themselves who allow their children to be trafficked.

“At the back of their minds, they know what will happen to their children,” he said. But driven by desperation as a result of poverty, the parents just give in.

Despite the number of women and children known to have been trafficked, there have been convictions in only 10 cases filed against traffickers in the country since RA 9208 was passed, said Nancy Lozano, state counsel at the Department of Justice and a member of the secretariat of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking

One of these judgments was handed down in Cebu.

On July 20, 2007, Regional Trial Court Branch 14 Judge Raphael Yrastorza Sr. found a couple from Barangay Kamagayan guilty of qualified trafficking of persons and imposed on them the penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of P3 million.

The pimps were tried for the more serious crime of “qualified trafficking” because one of the nine females they offered for sale to the undercover National Bureau of Investigation agents in the entrapment operation that led to their arrest in 2004, was a minor, at only 15 years old.

The case is now in the appellate court.


VFFI regional coordinator Abadesco hopes more people will get involved in the prevention of human trafficking.

To help determine if women and children traveling in a group on a ship may be trafficked victims, he said to watch out for these warning signs: the bulk buying of tickets; the individual embarking and disembarking of the members of the group who always regroup once inside the vehicle; and the possession by the usually lone adult in the group, the recruiter, of all the travel and personal documents of everyone in the group.

Normally, the members of the group are also told not to talk to anyone, and to say, if challenged, that they are 18 years old even if they are minors.

To emphasize the scale of the problem, Abadesco said no country is immune to trafficking and that the causes of trafficking go far beyond mere poverty to the poor values of parents and the maneuvers of exploitative recruiters feeding an ever-increasing demand for cheap labor as the Philippines opens itself up further to tourism.

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