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Real problem

October 11, 2011 ·  , Editorial, Philippine Daily Inqirer

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There was a lot of hue and cry about the statement of US Ambassador Harry Thomas at a recent judicial conference on human trafficking that 40 percent of foreign male tourists visit the Philippine for commercial sex. At first the ambassador refused to change his statement when asked by Philippine officials to apologize for it, but on Oct. 7 he relented and said he should not have used the “40 percent’’ statistic without the ability to back it up. But his statement has once again focused attention on the problem of sex trafficking and the sex trade in the Philippines. The fact is that the problem exists although right now we may not have accurate, verifiable statistics.

Justice Undersecretary Jose Vicente Salazar on Sept. 25 admitted that the government does not have accurate statistics on sexual tourism and related cases, but he added that combating sex trafficking was a “top priority concern’’ of the government since President Aquino was sworn into office last year.

For her part, Sen. Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate Committee on Women and Youth, said that a 2009 study showed that there were 800,000 prostituted females in the Philippines, half of them minors. “In fact,’’ she said, “the Philippines ranks fourth among countries with the biggest number of prostituted children. A study by the Psychological Trauma Program of the University of the Philippines notes that prostitution my now be the fourth largest source of the [gross national product].’’

These are indeed alarming statistics. And there’s more:

A report posted on the US Embassy website said that an unspecified number of Filipino children are engaged in prostitution, pornography and the sex tourism industry as well as agriculture, domestic work, drug trafficking and child soldiering.

According to the US labor department, Filipino children, “primarily girls, are trafficked from rural areas (particularly the Visayas and Mindanao) to urban areas for forced domestic service and commercial sex exploitation.’’

Filipino women, men and girls are trafficked for labor and sexual exploitation to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Africa, North America and Europe. The government and NGO estimates on the number of women trafficked range from 300,000 to 400,000 and the number of children trafficked range from 60,000 to 100,000.

The Philippines was placed in Tier 2 in the 2007 US Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for not fully complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but making significant efforts to do so.

A growing problem is the exploitation of children in cybersex dens, but we have no statistics on this.

We should not be onion-skinned and react violently to US and other international or foreign reports about sex trafficking and the sex trade in our country. They just want us to act more effectively in solving the problem of sex trade and sex trafficking resulting in the moral and spiritual death of tens of thousands of Filipino women and children.

The human demand for sex drives sex trafficking in the world. In the Philippines, the causes, aside from the human instinct, are poverty, lack of education, a high unemployment rate, a weak rule-of-law environment and sex tourism. Children are especially vulnerable because they are less educated, easy to control and easy to convince to do what they are told to do by adults.

What can be done to solve the problem of women and child trafficking for sex? The government has to redouble its efforts to solve the problems of poverty, unemployment and lack of educational services and facilities. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors have to be trained on the enforcement of the Anti-trafficking in Persons Act and the prosecution of those who exploit victims, including public officials who profit from or are involved in sex trafficking. The law criminalizes human trafficking, with penalties up to life imprisonment.

It may not be true that 40 percent of foreign tourists visit the Philippines to engage in commercial sex, but we have to admit that we have a big problem with women and child prostitution. The correct approach is not to deny that there is a problem or pretend it is not there, but to act on it more aggressively and effectively.

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