Commercial sexual exploitation in the Philippines
There are an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the Phillippines. Youth activist Cheryl Perera, founder of the Canadian-based organization OneChild, spent a month in that country touring its infamous “Sin City” and speaking to
victims of the child sex trade. In the
By Cheryl Perera
I went to the Philippines with a team of people from OneChild, a group of Canadian youth with a shared passion to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation. In 2006, we were on a mission to uncover the truth and learn about how we might help turn the tables on the child sex trade.
At 21, I considered myself to be a seasoned child rights activist, having investigated the trade in Sri Lanka, posing as the decoy at the age of 16 in a sting to catch a sex offender. Despite this, I could never have anticipated the things that I would see and hear during the month I spent in the Philippines.
Fields Avenue is a never-ending strip of go-go bars where young girls flash their wares underneath signs that read Dollhouse, Brown Sugar, the Cambodia Club, and Boys Night Out. Despite the pounding bass from inside the sex clubs, you can still hear the hawkers’ sex-talk that lures in a steady stream of unaccompanied male tourists who purchase imitation Viagra™ from street sellers and move in and out of the clubs with small Filipinas under their arms.
Maryanne Salo used to be one of those bar girls. Fleeing a life of family abuse and poverty at 13, she took to the streets of Angeles where she was picked up by a pimp and brought to work as a bar girl on Fields Avenue. Maryanne believed she would work as a waitress, but was instead forced to gyrate in a bikini for Filipinos and foreigners who could pay a bar fee to take her out of the club and do with her whatever they wished. Rescued with five other minors in 2002, the club was raided at a key moment when she was about to be shipped to Japan to work as a prostitute.
At 17, Maryanne is back in the red-light district—this time for a different reason. Fully rehabilitated and now a staunch children’s rights activist, she acted as my “tour guide” of the Angeles City sex trade.
“This is where I used to work,” she said, stopping in front of the Viper Room club. “It used to be called the G-Spot. The mamasan [club manager] told me that I needed a birth certificate proving that I was 18 (Maryanne’s aunt borrowed the birth certificate of a friend). There were many customers with different accents. They liked me because I was fair [skinned].”
When asked what happened after her rescue, Maryanne’s explanation is brief: “The club was owned by a rich foreigner. I pressed charges and the club was shut down. Two weeks later it sprung up under the new name.”
With an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation in the Philippines, the island nation ranks fourth in the world for child prostitution. There are various reasons for this.
The desperate financial situation faced by the population and exacerbated by the economic crisis in Asia has pushed impoverished girls into go-go bars and clubs to service tourists, or to accept false employment offers in restaurants, promotion agencies and households in Metro Manila. They are then confined, drugged and forced to provide sexual services under the threat of violence.
This never-ending supply of girls escaping poverty, abuse and neglect fuels the demand of customers—mainly foreigners from China, Korea, Japan, western Europe, Australia and the United States, and locals who include police officers said to be regular customers.
Closely connected to child sex tourism, and more difficult to track, is the increasing production of child pornography in the Philippines. Tourists and resident foreigners provide money and gifts to families in exchange for their children who are sexually abused. The abuse is sometimes photographed or filmed and then sold, or distributed online. One senior police officer in the Philippines estimates there are between 50 and 75 cybersex dens in the country where webcams are used to broadcast children as young as 10.
The case of 12-year-old Rosario Baluyot is a testament to this sad fact. Rosario, a street child, was abused by a foreign serviceman or doctor. It is not known who inserted an electric vibrator into her vaginal canal, which broke and left a five inch-long screw in her cervix. Rosario carried the screw in her body for nearly seven months until she was found dead on the street. Even in death, she has not seen justice. Her abuser still walks.
Inadequate laws, ineffective law enforcement, corruption, lack of resources and immature legal systems allow perpetrators to commit crimes with impunity against children like Maryanne and Rosario.
Under the current extraterritorial legislation, Canada is hard-pressed to obtain evidence that will secure a conviction due to such factors as distance, problems identifying the location of the crime or the victims, language barriers and the time that has passed since the offence was committed.
These challenges are compounded by the fact that Canada does not conduct its own investigations of child sex abuse abroad. Rather, the foreign government in question must provide Canada with enough evidence to support a charge in order for a prosecution to be launched. Posting additional RCMP liaison officers in known child sex tourism destinations to conduct investigations and provide local police with the skill sets for their investigations may be one way to ease these problems.
More governments are being proactive in alerting the public, police and judiciaries of their legislation though awareness campaigns. Since 2004, for instance, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services have partnered with World Vision to create deterrent messages through public service announcements and billboards on airlines and in U.S. airports, magazines and newspapers, and through brochures in taxis and hotels where U.S. travellers tend to congregate. There have been more than 20 indictments and over a dozen convictions.
For more information, visit www.one-child.ca.