Trafficking Filipino children

(The Philippine Star) - January 19, 2014 - 12:00am

CNN and BBC recently carried a horrific story about the busting of an international child prostitution ring that has been victimizing Filipino children. Codenamed “Operation Endeavor,” British, Australian and US authorities have been working with Filipino counterparts since 2012 to uncover those behind the sex syndicate which operates across the US, Asia and countries in Europe that include the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, France, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. Apparently, the investigation was triggered when British police discovered offensive videos involving children in the computer of a registered sex offender. Sadly, most of the children in the videos recorded from webcams were Filipino, some as young as six years old, performing indecent acts, to put it mildly.

The report is appalling, but many people are no longer surprised because this has been going on for so many years – decades even – with news of pedophiles flocking to resorts and other tourist attractions that offer entertainment of an erotic nature. If one can remember, Pagsanjan – which is famous for its waterfalls – gained notoriety sometime in the ’90s as a “tropical paradise for pedophiles” and was even described by international gay magazines as a place where one can “shoot the rapids by day and shoot the boys at night.”

If one were to go by reports from the BBC, the CNN and even local news networks, not a lot seems to have changed since then, with sex trafficking victims mostly coming from the depressed and rural areas in the country. An estimated 400,000 of the victims are women while 100,000 are children, with 80 percent of them female under 18. A special documentary series titled “The Fighters” (the result of two years of undercover research and filming in the Philippines) shown in CNN International last year featured the story of a girl who was duped into working as a prostitute when she was 15.

With her family needing money to send her ailing father to the hospital, the girl went with a recruiter thinking she would work as a helper in a restaurant – but ended up as a sex slave in a brothel, servicing as many as a dozen men in a day. Worse, she was forced to go to extreme lengths to trick customers into thinking she was a virgin and fetch higher pay, describing in gruesome detail how she would insert a cotton ball dipped in (bird) blood into her organ. She was eventually rescued after several weeks, but as the report noted, the damage – physically, emotionally and psychologically – had been done.

Unfortunately, technology has become a catalyst in the proliferation of child prostitution, with syndicates utilizing the Internet to set up cybersex dens where children are forced to “perform” in front of a webcam and the “performance” streamed live to a global audience. It’s a lucrative business, with operators only needing to spend for Internet access, a small room and a mattress. Many are forced to work in the sex industry because of desperation and abject poverty, but what is totally mortifying is the revelation that parents, mostly mothers, are the very ones forcing their children to work in cybersex dens. 

Last year, authorities raided a house in a slum area in Cebu and apprehended a couple who were forcing their children to engage in sex acts in front of a web camera, charging viewers $100 each. Police said the parents would enter chat rooms to seek out potential clients, then arrange for payment through international e-payment centers. Some “enterprising” individuals also put up the capital for the Internet “business” by giving or renting out wi-fi ready laptops with webcams, and then get a certain percentage for the online operations.

Last November, reports also came out about “Sweetie,” a 10-year-old girl who would go to video chat rooms offering online sex acts. Sweetie turned out to be a virtual Filipino kid created by a Dutch child rights group who discovered that 20,000 pedophiles from 71 countries approached the (virtual) girl in the two months that the group conducted the sting operation.  The group manipulated the girl’s facial expressions and movements, programming her responses to her chat mates – while tracking down the location and identity of Sweetie’s would-be “clients.” Why the virtual girl had to be Filipina should tell us the extent of the notoriety the country has gained as a favorite among sex offenders.

But apparently, a lot of these child predators are no longer content with just watching online. Many would look out for potential victims by befriending women, usually a single mother, via Facebook, with the foreigners eventually gaining access into the homes – and therefore the kids – of the unsuspecting victims. Some foreigners would even adopt the children and bring them abroad – where they would be forced to work as cybersex performers, their videos peddled to pedophiles all over the world.

Senator Loren Legarda, a staunch advocate of women and children’s rights, has been consistently calling for the strict implementation of the country’s anti-trafficking and child protection laws, noting that a lot of the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda and the earthquake in Sorsogon, even the people displaced by the attack of renegade MNLF forces in Zamboanga City, are most vulnerable to human trafficking syndicates nowadays. Many could spot these disgusting predators a mile away, prowling the calamity stricken areas like vultures on the lookout for their prey. 

We have a number of laws meant to safeguard children from abusers – but as Loren told us – we have to be vigilant and make them work in order to save these children from an existence than can only be described as worse than a living hell.

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Email: babeseyeview@yahoo.com



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