The modus operandi is almost always the same - sweet-talking recruiters entice parents to allow their young daughters to leave the provinces and work in Manila as domestic helpers with promises of huge salaries. But once the girls arrive in Manila, the story turns sour with many of them ending up in forced labour or prostitution. Worse, they are “trained” for “export” to other countries to work as prostitutes.
“Trafficking in the Philippines has two faces - one is for local consumption and the other for abroad,” said Cecilia Flores Oebanda, president of Visayan Forum Foundation, a non-governmental organization working for the welfare of migrants. “Women are first recruited to Manila, where they are trained for deployment abroad,” she said. “They are taught how to undress, they are bleached, beautified, then initiated into the sex trade with foreigners as their first customers.” “That’s what they call on-the-job training while their papers are fixed for travel abroad,” she told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in an interview. As the government and such organizations as Visayan Forum step up the fight against human trafficking, the lure of a better life, a culture that accepts child labour as long as parents consent to it, abject poverty and the government’s labour-export policy still fuel the modern-day slavery and lead to estimated tens of thousands of Filipinos, mostly women and children, being trafficked every year.
Due to its continued notoriety as a source, transit and destination country for trafficked persons, the Philippines has remained on the US State Department’s tier 2 list of countries that do not fully comply with international standards against human trafficking but are making significant progress to fight the problem. The Philippines used to be in the tier 2 watchlist but saw its status improve in 2006 after seven of 186 legal cases filed from 2003 to 2006 resulted in convictions. Oebanda said the Philippine government’s continued deployment of Filipino workers, mostly as domestic helpers, around the world, whose wages are a much needed source of revenue for the country, was exposing Filipino women and children to the dangers of trafficking. She noted that even Filipinos with overseas work permits could end up being trafficked. “Some of them secure work permits, but is their job really the work that they asked the permit for?” she asked. “We are worried and alarmed that our major source of income is people that we send out as migrants. We lack protective mechanisms and this adds to the vulnerability of people.”
Oebanda said recruiters often prey on young women between 12 and 22 years old. The victims are usually school dropouts, looking for jobs or a way out of the provinces. “Some women just want to get out of the provinces,” she said. ”They want to come to Manila or any urban centre. They flock to urban centres, where there is a perceived notion of better opportunities waiting for them.”
Gladys, 19, left her home province of Surigao del Norte in the southern Philippines for the central city of Cebu in the hopes of finding a job to help her poor family. The youngest girl in a brood of five said she was recruited by a relative to work as a domestic helper but ended up as a waitress in a nightclub frequented by foreign tourists in a red-light district in Cebu City. “I wanted to experience life in a city and how it is like to have a job,” she told dpa. “I also thought that if I can work, it would be a great help to my parents.” Dressed in skimpy attires every night, she often receives indecent proposals from customers who grab and touch her even without her consent while serving drinks or food at their tables. For three months, the advances escalated, and she said she feared she would end up like other girls in the bar who not only work as waitresses but also dance half-naked and perform sexual services. Unable to stand the exploitation, she approached Visayan Forum and asked for help. She is now undergoing computer training to help her achieve her goal of becoming a teacher.
Other girls are not as lucky as Gladys. In some cases, Visayan Forum has rescued young women locked up in rooms where they are forced to have sex with as many as 20 men every night. “The operator of the prostitution house counts the men the girls had serviced by the number of condoms on the floor,” Oebanda said. Even women who end up working as domestic helpers also sometimes face sexual abuse from their male bosses. Elena was only 15 when her parents traded her for 500 pesos (10 dollars) to a recruitment agency in the southern province of Misamis Oriental. In one of her many jobs as a domestic helper, Elena was raped repeatedly by her male employer when his wife went on vacation to the United States. The abuse continued for quite some time until she was let go by the couple and returned to the recruitment agency. “When I asked for help from my recruiter, I was merely told that since I was no longer a virgin, I might as well become a sex worker,” she told Visayan Forum. “I was so furious, I escaped, not knowing where I’d end up.” While most of those rescued were grateful for the help, Oebanda said some of the women and children had been so hardened by their ordeal that they get angry at social workers like her. “They see us as getting in their way, that we’re taking away their jobs and opportunities,” she said. “Some of them even vandalize our shelters. But eventually they appreciate it.”
Adapted from: Khaleej Times. March 1, 2007.
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