Sunday Writing Prompt “Recovery”

Recovery is Possible sign with a beach on background

Hello everyone! For this prompt, I’m reblogging one of my earlier posts about the Philippines on human trafficking.

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“Filipinos Are Not For Sale”

How can she not want to help her family, after all? The amount being offered overwhelms her and she answers with a ringing yes. The friend of a friend assures this girl from a poor family a high paying job abroad as a waitress. She is going to the Middle East, but must first stop-off in Malaysia secretly. Before long, she ends up in a confined, murky space, one wrist handcuffed to a bed. The guard gave her a big box of condoms and is casually informed that this will be her daily quota from now on – that is, if she wants to eat at all. By then, it’s too late, as we see the plight of yet another trafficking victim.

That’s 21st century slavery in the Philippines. Aside from this trafficking of Filipinas to overseas destination, there are also sex tourism, foreign child molesters, mail-order bride trafficking, debt bondage and child organ trafficking. Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. In 2012 alone, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) listed 1,376 victims of human trafficking nationwide. According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in 2010, estimated 60,000 to 100,000 children in the Philippines were involved in prostitution rings. An uncertain number of children are forced into exploitative labour operations. A 2006 Article reported that based on statistics provided by the Visayan Forum Foundation, most victims were between 12 to 22 years old.

Traffickers often work through deceptive recruitment agencies and practices to traffic migrants. They use local recruiters dispatch to villages and urban neighbourhoods to take on family and friends, often pretending as representatives of government-registered employment agencies. These sham recruitment practices and the organised custom of paying recruitment fees usually leave workers unprotected to forced labour, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation. There were reports in 2010 that illegal recruiters augmented their use of student, intern, and exchange program visas to dodge the Philippines government and receiving countries’ dogmatic schemes for overseas workers.

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Economic growth in the Philippines is among the highest in Asia, with 5.9 percent in the second quarter of 2012. Regrettably though, the immensity of the financial benefits related with this growth carries on escaping the mainstream Filipinos living in poverty. According to the most recent estimates from The World Bank, 26.5 percent of the Filipino population is living in poverty. This soaring rate of economic discrepancy remains one of the largest factors driving many Filipinos into human trafficking situations. In spite of recent economic progress, the Philippines continue to be one of the prime source countries for sex trafficking and forced labour victims in Asia, the Middle East, as well as in urban centres and tourist destinations in the Philippines.. According to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, Filipino human trafficking victims have been identified in over 37 countries across five continents. Absence of economic opportunities in the Philippines, gender role socialisation, and family dynamics make Filipinos particularly susceptible to human trafficking crimes.

Many crimes go unreported because victims lack information, crimes are hidden by victims and violators and families of victims allow the circumstances as normal. The media has reported incidents where parents or guardian sell their children for services, while the blow of poverty results in many family breakups and in children living on the streets. The production and online distribution of child pornography can also lead to modern slavery, whereby foreign viewers pay children to do sex acts. There have been reports of boys becoming progressively more at risk of this form of modern slavery. Ongoing political conflict also places some children at risk of coercion into joining armed political organisations. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, New People’s Army and the Abu Sayyaf Group have been named by the UN Secretary-General as continual violators of the rights of children in armed conflict.

Is the Philippine Government doing enough to stop these atrocities? The Philippines’ Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 criminalised trafficking within or across national borders and bestowed the consent of victims irrelevant if deception or coercion is used. It also established the Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT) to coordinate and watch anti-trafficking activities. The Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012 additionally supported the law by setting up stronger penalties for violators and increasing provisions to look after victims, removing the identity protection clause for perpetrators, granting law enforcement officers and service providers immunity from suit when performing official functions, and barring the complainant’s past sexual behaviour or predilection in proving their consent in trials. The last point is important because many victims fear having their sexual history publicly scrutinised, which may discourage them from pursuing charges.

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Through the hard work of IACAT, we now have a wide-ranging National Strategic Action Plan Against Trafficking in Persons for 2012-2016, which prioritises four key results areas: advocacy and prevention; protection, recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration; prosecution and law enforcement; and partnership and networking. The U.S. Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report released in June lauds IACAT’s strong prevention programs. It is planned for the government and civil society to invest in anti-trafficking awareness-raising and training sessions for public officials, religious, business and community leaders, and the youth. The pre-employment seminars for thousands of outbound Filipino overseas workers carried out by the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency and the targeted counselling programs for at-risk groups in trafficking hotspots held by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas are crucial in informing people against the bogus promises of traffickers.

The Government has also made efforts to increasing training of law enforcement officials in recognising and examining trafficking cases. Corruption, nevertheless, is widespread at all levels of government in the Philippines, and has constantly been linked with human trafficking. Some local politicians and their business cronies continue to allow the operation of clubs and bars where children and young women are used as sexual commodities. They work with local criminal gangs to do their dirty work and in return the gangs are given protection for their involvement by the police. Transparency International ranks the Philippines 105th of 176 countries in its Corruption Perceptions index, with allegation of law enforcement officials’ complicity, mostly in trafficking cases. The Government has also taken steps to care for victims of modern slavery, turning over about $615,000 to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to support the Recovery and Reintegration Program for Trafficked Persons. The majority of victims assisted by this Department were supported with skills, training, shelter and medical services and legal help. The DSWD also runs residential and community-based services, although these were found to be inadequate to discuss the needs of trafficking victims, specifically men.

Other challenges in the fight against human trafficking.
Philippines should:
• Implement and check the National Strategic Action Plan against Human Trafficking, 2012-2016.
• Scale-up the focus on safe migration pathways for Filipino nationals working abroad, including developing materials to educate people about their rights at work.
• Continue to investigate and indict cases of exploitative employment through labour agencies offering jobs abroad.
• Incorporate anti- slavery initiatives into Government poverty alleviation programmes to tackle the root causes of the issue.
• Continue to take steps to end corruption.
• Keep on educating law enforcement officials and judges about human trafficking and increase public awareness of modern slavery.
• Defend victims, with special protections for those who are willing to cooperate with law enforcement investigations and prosecutions.
• Provide efficient after-care programmes focusing on skills development and enterprise to support the empowerment and reintegration of victims.
• Reinforce anti-slavery interventions in regional areas, especially in the southern part of Mindanao.

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Men are the most overlooked victims of human trafficking. Not much is known about the cases of male sex trafficking due to feelings of shame and humiliation. But the reality is that the number of male victims of sex trafficking had been increasing. Especially so in non-sex trafficking activities as reported in the 2014 Trafficking of Persons (TIP) report recently presented by US State Department Secretary John Kerry, where he said Filipino men and boys had become susceptible to human trafficking. Although the country had been upgraded from the original Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2, the Report noted that as yet, we have “not fully complied” with the standards for the eliminating of trafficking. A worrisome development is that the country has become one of the five hotspots in child-organ trafficking. The National Bureau of Investigation reports that smugglers target children, most of them men, who are kidnapped and taken abroad where their organs are sold to foreign nationals. Traffickers often conspire with local crime syndicates and corrupt government officials, use social networking tools to recruit Filipinos for overseas work or to carry out sex crimes.

The victims’ access to justice needs to be improved. Traffickers need to know that they will be punished. If not, trafficking will always be profitable. While there is a sturdy increase in the number of trafficking convictions, we also need to look at the ratio of the number of cases filed to the number of convictions. Between 2005 and 2013, there have only 110 convictions for human trafficking related crimes in the Philippines. It appears that trial efforts have improved with more than 300 cases filed during the TIP reporting period, but trials remain lengthy, and the number of convictions inexplicably low, which is a disincentive for most victims. Fraudulent officials who use their authority to victimise people weaken the good work done by honest public servants. The TIP mentions reports of officials accepting bribes from organisations that engage in trafficking, aiding unlawful departures for overseas workers and urging victims to demote trafficking charges. There are also serious accusations that staff in Philippine diplomatic posts in the Middle East re-victimised anxious Filipino overseas workers, by taking their wages and compelling them into transactional sex or domestic servitude in exchange for repatriation. Administrative charges have been filed but we need these people to be made criminally held responsible.

Lastly, we need a comprehensive database of trafficking cases in the Philippines. IACAT is in the process of putting together a complete database. Information from victims, including repatriated Filipinos, will help us study the recruitment and placement strategies of traffickers. Once this data is accessible, it also becomes easier to blacklist offensive employers and recruitment agencies, monitor the services provided to overseas workers in shelters abroad, and offer Filipinos with more targeted protective information. It does seem that the number of partnerships being formed against human trafficking is unparalleled in our nation’s history. For that, we are grateful. The challenge now is to prioritise tactical and high-impact intercessions that bring about real social change. This can only be done if we shield at-risk groups, dissuade traffickers and sanction victims. With guarded optimism, we commemorate how far we’ve come in the battle against trafficking, but we also prop ourselves for the long road ahead.

Works Cited:
http://www.unicef.org/protection/files/ipulocaltrafficking.pdf
http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/philippines
ILO: Labour Migration in the Philippines
2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report
“Global Monitoring: status of action against commercial sexual exploitation of children: Philippines” (2011), p8, ECPAT International: https://app.box.com/s/vauz7z01c75no247e0ui
“US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013” Philippines Country Narrative, p300, US Department of State: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/210741.pdf
https://www.devex.com/news/3-major-challenges-in-the-fight-against-human-trafficking-84047
“Philippines: New human trafficking investigation procedures aim for air-tight cases, improved conviction rates” (8 February 2013), UNODC: http://www.unodc.org/southeastasiaandpacific/en/2013/02/philippines-pnp/story.html
“The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, Ms. Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, concludes her country visit to the Philippines” (9 November 2012), p5, UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children: http://www.slideshare.net/unphilippines/un-special-rapporteur-on-trafficking-in-persons-joy-ngozi-ezeilo-report-on-her-philippine-fact-finding-mission
“Corruption by country/ territory” (2013), Transparency International: http://www.transparency.org/country#PHL
“US Trafficking in Persons Report 2013” Philippines Country Narrative, p.302, US Department of State: http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/210741.pdf
http://www.diplomaticourier.com/news/topics/security/2197-human-trafficking-in-the-philippines-a-blemish-on-economic-growth
http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/340851/newstv/reeltime/quick-facts-human-trafficking-in-the-philippines

For: Sunday Writing Prompt “Recovery”

8 Comments

  1. Keep shining a light on the atrocity. Too many people don’t believe it’s serious. Bless groups like O.U.R. (Operation Underground Railroad) that are rescuing victims and capturing traffickers for prosecution. In just the last couple of years, I’ve heard of new groups joining the fight. Keep fighting the good fight.

    Liked by 1 person

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