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Trafficking in Innocence after the storm

April 10, 2014 · 

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By Shay Cullen, SSC

Social worker Marlyn received a message that a 14-year-old girl named
“Princess” had been trafficked and sold to a sex bar here in the
Philippines. Marlyn alerted me and we began planning to rescue the
child, just one of thousands of children trafficked for sexual abuse
each year in the Philippines.and many more around the world. It is a
problem of global reach and the recent agreement signed by the
heads and representatives of the major religions to fight it is a
positive encouragement. Its almost six months since the the
devastation of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) and many more children will
fall victim to sexual predators as the poverty grows and young people
and parents become desperate to get jobs and money.It all to common.

Marlyn, who herself was rescued from sex-trade traffickers, works
with me in the Preda Foundation organization I founded 40 years ago
that actively responds to and rescues victims, and then helps them
get an education and start new lives of dignity.

This time, we organized a police raid on the sex bar, called the
Crowbar, and rescued Princess and five other underage girls who had
been entrapped there through debts and fear of retaliation against
their families. The operator of the sex bar, a U.S. national, was
arrested, and during his arraignment, Princess whispered to her
social worker: “I never thought this could happen; he’s rich and
connected. I can’t believe we got out.”

Princess was rescued and was helped at the Preda Home for Children.
Over the years we have rescued thousands of children and youths from
the scourge of “sex tourism,” even as the sex industry continues to
spread and grow with impunity.

This has all been exacerbated by the recent natural disasters in the
Philippines.Another Typhoon is lashing Southern Mindanao as I write.
But with Yolanda last November 2013 it was the worst ever. I have
been through ferocious typhoons during my 44 years in this Southeast
Asian nation, but have never seen anything like the sheer savagery of
Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Typhoon Yolanda. After this super
storm hit the Philippines , bringing winds of up to 150 miles an
hour, torrential rain, flooding and landslides, I flew to visit the
northern towns on Cebu Island to assess the damage with two Preda
staff members. Our goals were to deliver aid directly to the people
who most needed it and, equally important, to protect orphaned
children from would-be abductors and traffickers posing as relatives.
Now months later much has been done to get electricity back and
people fed ,but hundreds of thousands of houses have yet to be
repaired.and jobs created.

Horrible as the prospect of such exploitation is, it has been a cruel
reality in times of natural disasters, and Haiyan was the most
devastating typhoon known to humankind: as many as 6,500 or more were
killed, countless injured and made homeless. And the orphaned
children remain the most vulnerable. Their towns and villages and
homes are gone and their parents are dead. They face the threat of
hunger, malnutrition, abduction and forced degradation in the sex
trade and as slave labor.

These children need our attention and direct intervention to rescue
them from child traffickers and pedophiles and Preda social workers
have been giving training to workers to help find them and given
help. Under the pretext of saving the children, traffickers abduct
them and may sell them as “brides” to pedophiles, or earn hundreds of
thousands of dollars by providing these children for illegal
adoption, organ transplants, sexual abuse and exploitation in
brothels and as forced labor.

Poverty often makes exploitation easy. Reggie is a clear example. The
17-year-old jobless youth and his family lived on the edge of severe
poverty even before Typhoon Haiyan pushed them into absolute poverty
and left them with nothing. In the midst of the chaos and
destruction, human traffickers forced him and six other youth from
Cebu into unpaid labor on a fishing boat, only to abandon them hungry
and unpaid. Then, Reggie’s freedom and human rights were taken from
him when local authorities jailed him for being a vagrant. He was
recently rescued from illegal imprisonment and is recovering and
rebuilding his life back in his home village. We can all continue to
do mor e and to help the people in greatest need.

Though the work goes on, it never gets any easier to stomach.
shaycullen @preda.org .www.preda.org

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