24 November 2008

Human-Trafficking in Evacuation Centers

Photo courtesy of Joe Galvez
When I was still a child, I thought that abusive people are only focus on inflicting harm on the elderly and those with disabilities. It was only when I was able to read the papers and hear the news reports that made me realize that abusive behaviour is so widespread and indiscriminate. What is stomach-wrenching is that they usually come in the guise of helping victims of man-made and natural disaster and when they get the trust they don't deserve, they show their horrific colors.

This is what usually happens in several evacuation centers in Mindanao where families had to endure sub-human conditions to avoid the raging armed conflict between the military and rebel groups.

Cotabato Rep. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza warned that, "A growing number of young girls and boys whose families have been displaced by constant armed strife have become extremely vulnerable to trafficking by illegal job recruiters and all sorts of predators."

Many of the underage victims risk maltreatment and exploitation as sweatshop laborers, street slaves and child prostitutes under the employ of gangsters, or illegal workers abroad.

"Sadly, the condition in many parts of Mindanao that are being tormented by armed clashes has become highly conducive for child traffickers," Taliño-Mendoza said.

She appealed to the Department of Social Welfare and Development as well as operators of passenger buses, inter-island vessels and airlines to exercise greater vigilance and take extra precautions against child traffickers.

"One practical way to discourage trafficking is for domestic passenger carriers to check the identity and age of every traveling minor, and to ascertain whether the child is accompanied by a verified family member or relative, or by a person not related to the minor," Taliño-Mendoza said.

This is one of the reasons why this country needs tougher laws on human-trafficking and monitoring infrastructure to prevent syndicate groups from plying their trade. Nothing should be left to chance and hope that non-governmental organizations will just fill the gap in policy implementation.

Fortunately, their are some individuals and organizations who are vigilant against this modus operandi.

The Visayan Forum Foundation Inc. coordinated with thesocial workers in rescuing 34 minors that traffickers tried to sneaked out of conflict zones in Mindanao and tried to deploy them to the Middle East on spurious travel papers.

The Visayan Forum works for the welfare of trafficked women and children as well as marginalized migrants, especially those employed in the invisible and informal sectors, like domestic helpers. The foundation runs two shelters in Davao City.

Since 2001, the foundation has rescued and aided more than 32,000 victims and potential victims of trafficking, and has assisted in the filing of 66 criminal cases on behalf of 166 victims.

According to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), since August, more than 600,000 civilians, including over 40,000 children, have been displaced as a result of military-rebel clashes and armed incursions by wayward Moro Islamic Liberation Front factions across three regions in Mindanao.