Human trafficking, sex tourism, foreign child molesters, mail-order bride trafficking, debt bondage and child organ trafficking. These are some of the 21st century slavery in the Philippines. Illegal recruiters usually go to villages and urban neighbourhoods to take on families 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. 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. 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 production and online distribution of child pornography can also lead to modern slavery, whereby foreign viewers pay children to do sex acts.
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. 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 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. 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. 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.
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 ↩
“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 ↩