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Philippines faces hurdles to shut down sex trafficking

Channel NewsAsia, 23 August 2015 - The Philippines is a major hub of the multi-billion dollar global human trafficking industry and local agencies are facing a huge hurdle to tackle the problem, according to a recent Trafficking in Persons report released by the US in July.

Carla, not her real name, was 9 years old when she was first asked to take off her clothes in front of a web camera.

Her neighbour had approached her in her hometown in Cebu, and asked if she would like to earn some money.

Since her family was struggling to make ends meet, she accepted the offer without hesitation. But Carla did not expect to end up working in a sexually exploitative environment.

She said her paymasters would coerce her to perform naked for customers online, often in front of other girls and boys in a similar state of undress.

But being young and naive, she had no idea that what they made her do was illegal.

"What's in my mind at that time was my family. I really wanted to help them and that's why I did that. When I was nine years old, I still do not know what's wrong and what's right,” she said.

“During those times, my mind didn't change because with that job we got to receive money. I just realised that it was wrong when they started to rescue us. After that, they talked to us. That's when my outlook on that job changed."

This was Carla's life for 17 months, before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Visayan Foundation rescued her.

Carla is one of the lucky ones. For each rescued child, there are thousands more who remain enslaved in the Philippines.


According to the International Labor Organisation, international human trafficking generates an estimated US$150 billion a year in illegal profits. And the Philippines is a major source country.

The US State Department's 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report ranks the Philippines under Tier 2 of the three-tier ranking system.

In the report, the Philippines Government is described as not having fully complied with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and cites forced labour and the sex trafficking of men, women and children as being significant problems within the country.

According to the NBI, human trafficking that feeds into the global cyber-sex tourism industry is prevalent in Philippine cities with high poverty levels and there’s a huge demand for the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates some 750,000 child sex predators are online at any given time.

But tackling human trafficking in the Philippines is not without its challenges.

Victims are often willing but unwitting participants lured by money and in many cases, parents are complicit in the transaction, according to Fiscal Darlene Pajarito, an executive officer from the Inter-Agency Councils Against Trafficking.

"They are actually really very poor but they found out that they can make a lot of money in selling their own children online or other people’s children online,” she said.

Another challenge lies in the inefficacy of the justice system, where perpetrators often take advantage of the slow legal process to slip through the system.

"Sometimes, cases would drag on for several years. So, it would really take long before the final resolution of the cases involving human trafficking,” saud Czar Nuqui, Chief, Anti-Human Trafficking Division of the National Bureau of Investigation.

Fighting human trafficking remains an uphill battle in the Philippine but survivors like Carla are offering hope to many others that reclaiming one’s life is possible.


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