When it comes to Southeast Asia, the Philippines has never stood alone in the issues of poverty. Further complicating these issues was the direct hit on the Philippines in late 2013 by Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda). The typhoon in the Atlantic devastated the region and was recorded as the deadliest typhoon to hit the Philippines.
Yet, despite the the disease, starvation and displacement that the super typhoon delivered upon the country, the detrimental effects are also greatly exacerbated by a previously existing and long standing pariah on the Filipino society: sex trafficking.
Always to be found feeding amidst the poverty and desperation of any society, the sex trafficking of men, women, and children in the Philippines has recently become an area of more focused concern for international authorities. this may be due to the lack of either ability or willingness of local authorities to effectively combat the ever-growing sex trade.
The path to effectively combatting the practice of sex trafficking is a long one for the Philippine government, one made more difficult with many setbacks and roadblocks. Working in conjunction with agencies such as the National Bureau of Investigation and Visayan Foundation, authorities in the Philippines are laboring towards significantly reducing and, eventually, defeating the thriving sex trade.
Although the government encourages a variety of activities in support of prevention, such as funding the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (ICAT) in 2011, they are also listed as “not having fully complied with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” Accused of being a “hollow institution,” it has been claimed that the Philippine Department of Justice does not properly enforce, primarily due to factors such as corruption and a lack of proper training.
The aforementioned problems with the justice system also produce additional obstacles in the prosecution on cases involving sex trafficking. In 2011-2012, of the 680 cases that were pending or ongoing in the court system, only 29 successful convictions of traffickers had taken place. Frequently this is a result of a lack of protection for the victims who have come forward, often resulting in the disappearance of victims or their withdrawal of cooperation.
And finally, the biggest hurdle to fighting sex trafficking is the condition of the victims themselves. Due to the extreme poverty of much of the Filipino population, approximately 1 in 4 living below the poverty level in 2013, it leaves those who are frantic to survive ripe for the picking by traffickers.
Grand promises of high income and a better life draw many unwittingly into the trade, from those looking to support their families financially in any way possible to families who are so desperate for income that they will sell members of their own families. Children are especially vulnerable to such offers, wishing only to help their families to survive and unaware that they are participating in something illegal. The presence of cyber sex trafficking has also allowed a new way to exploit individuals, particularly children in the sex trade industry. This industry has a far reach – images are often accessed in many countries.
Additionally, an estimated 900,000 Filipino workers are unaccounted for in official records, subjecting them to a variety of illegal employment practices and leaving them deprived of the protection of any social or labor laws.
Awareness is an obvious first step in the long line of steps that it will take to reach the eventual dissolution of the sex trade in the Philippines, along with the sincere cooperation of law enforcement and tandem work with those external governments and agencies that are perhaps better equipped to deal with such challenges.
Efforts have been made to reduce sex trafficking. Project Lantern, an endeavor back by Bill and Melinda Gates, has seen a significant reduction in minors exploited in the trade in the city of Cebu.
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