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Brothels operate in Zamboanga shelters

April 11, 2014 · 

Seven children, age 3 to 12, were found to have STDs
like gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia.
ZAMBOANGA CITY-In yet another sign of the desperation to which evacuees here had been driven, prostitution in shelters has persisted despite officials saying it has been stopped.
One evacuee, Hain Sukarna, 43, mother of three children, said prostitution persisted at  Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Grandstand, one of the biggest shelters for residents who were displaced by the terror attack on the city by followers of Nur Misuari and the government siege that followed it.
Thousands of evacuees are languishing in the shelters since they were driven out of their homes in September last year. At least 108 people, mostly children, have died there.
Though not a social scientist, Sukarna offered an explanation to why prostitution exists: “It’s because there is nothing to eat.”
“Some of them (victims of prostitution) cannot get jobs due to lack of education. Some need money to buy medicines,” Sukarna said.
Shallom Allian, program manager of nongovernment organization Nisa Ul Haqq fi  Bangsamoro, told the  Inquirer that prostitution was indeed happening not just in the grandstand but also on Cawa-Cawa Boulevard, where some of the evacuees are also staying.
“We’ve learned that there are [tent] brothels inside and outside, just near the   Women’s Center Building,” Allian said.
He said evacuees, mostly female, were “forced to engage in prostitution for P25, P50 to as high as P300 just to address their immediate needs like food and medicines.”
Dr. Rodelin Agbulos, city health officer, admitted there was rampant prostitution in the grandstand in the first three months (September, October, November) after the siege.
“It was really rampant, and there was even a joke of ‘bagsak presyo (falling prices)’ then,” Agbulos said, adding that prostitution persisted in the grandstand when a curfew was still being enforced there.
When the curfew was lifted, Agbulos said, “we learned that these prostituted individuals brought their job back to the streets.”
“Now, there is no prostitution inside the grandstand,” he said.
The city health chief also admitted receiving reports of sexual activities in the portable toilets “so we deployed more latrine marshals and increased the presence of police forces patrolling inside.”
Evacuee Saadia Alfad said she constantly watched over her three children as there had been cases of sexual assaults in the toilets.
“I accompany my daughter when she goes to the toilet,” Alfad said.
Allian said there were also cases of women and children having gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Recently, a 3-year-old girl was reported to have tested positive for an STD, but it turned out to be false.
Jasmin Teodoro of the nongovernment group Nonviolent Peaceforce told the Inquirer that the 3-year-old girl was referred to the city health office. Agbulos said initial tests indicated an STD infection.
Agbulos, however, said that when checked again weeks ago, the girl tested negative for STD.
“She was first examined and found positive, but when she was tested again, it turned out negative,” he said.
Agbulos said that according to health workers, tests also indicated that the girl had not been raped but there were signs she was “touched.”
Dr. Kibtiya Uddin of the city health office’s HIV AIDS surveillance section said seven children, age 3 to 12, were found to have STDs like gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia.
“We were able to track them down and provided   treatment,” Uddin said.
Senior Supt. Angelito Casimiro, acting city police chief, said police had yet to receive reports about tent brothels in evacuation centers.
“We have increased our personnel coupled with regular patrols there,” Casimiro said. Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao

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