Saturday, December 31, 2005

Prostitution, Human Trafficking Remain A Tough Problem in Southern RP


ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal) Prostitution and human trafficking are alarmingly increasing in many areas in the southern Philippines, and worst, local officials can do little to put a stop these nefarious activities.

In Cotabato City in Maguindanao province, young women sell their bodies for as low as P500 ($9) and many of them openly advertise their trade in bars and on public squares frequented by travellers and soldiers.

Abdullah Cusain, spokesman for Cotabato City Mayor Muslimen Sema, said many women resorted to prostitution because of poverty.

But he was quick to say that most sex workers in Cotabato came from as far as Agusan and Zamboanga provinces and were lured by the presence of soldiers.

"Poverty drives many women into prostitution and we are doing our part to put a stop, if not, control the increasing and alarming problems of prostitution."

"The task is really so difficult because many men engage the services of these sex workers. The spread of sex diseases is our main concern now," Cusain said.

Health workers regularly conduct education campaign in Cotabato about the dangers pose by unsafe sex, he said.

"We need more funds to help us sustain our campaign against prostitution. We need to save the women also from this menace and provide them livelihood and alternative sources of descent living," Cusain said.

He said a group of about 40 sex workers even put up an association in Cotabato to promote their trade. "This is our dilemma. Many men continue to patronize sex workers and we are now faced with more problems," Cusain said.

Many sex workers, Cusain said, are in karaoke bars that mushroomed near the military camps in Maguindanao because soldiers patronize them.

In the early 1990s, Cusain said, many prostitutes turned up dead after Muslim rebels allegedly kidnapped and executed them. Prostitution is prohibited in Islam, he said.

One sex worker, Angel Gaga, a 16-year old highschool drop-out from Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur province, said she was forced into prostitution after she was raped by her second father.

"My father attacked and raped me in our house and made me his sex slave. And I was afraid to tell the police because he threatened to kill me my mother," she said.

Gaga said she stowed away after months of sexual assaults -- each, every time her mother, a laundrywoman -- was out for work.

"I landed in Cotabato and found some friends, who turned out to be prostitutes, and I later became one. I don't like this job, but there is no more I can do, and there is nothing for me out there," she said.

She said she usually go out with travellers, and in the past, had sex several times with foreigners. "I usually go out with men, maybe about 3 a night. Pay is sometimes good, but not all the time.

They pay me P500 for three hours, and I get tips also. Pimps get P100 or P200 from the customers," she said.

Gaga said she and about two dozen other young women, many also from other provinces, stay together in one house, where pimps can contact them.

"It is a hard life, and I am stuck into this. Who knows someday, I will have a family of my own," she said.

Non-governmental organizations and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) estimated the number of victims of prostitution at around 600,000 and that 75,000 of them were children.

And the Philippines now ranks fourth among countries with the most number of prostituted children, said a study by the Psychological Trauma Program of the University of the Philippines.

It said that prostitution may now be the country's fourth largest source of GNP.

Entertainment is the main channel for prostitution. And government policies also favor the export of entertainers and domestic helpers that put women at risk of sexual exploitation."

Many establishments from beer houses to night clubs or karaoke pubs, to beach resorts, and massage parlors, including expensive health clubs, also provide a venue for prostitution.

Human trafficking is also a major problem for the Philippines. And a report by the US State Department warned the Philippines against not fully complying with the standards for the elimination of human trafficking cases, despite a new law.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the government's campaign against human trafficking is relentless.

"The government's efforts against human trafficking has never wavered and this relentless campaign is waged through the cooperation of various government agencies.

"However, we take note of our current standing in this global drive and we are determined to improve our ranking," Bunye said.

Many women and children were prostituted by their own family mostly for money and in many instances, smuggled to other other countries as tourists, either to work as sex workers or forced labor.

In Zamboanga City, several persons had died in the past from acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and many undocumented sex workers were infected with venereal diseases.

And health officials have to resort to more drastic actions to take control of the situation. They raided bars and detain women who have no working or health permits.

But the number of prostitutes could ran into hundreds and local officials seemed helpless in putting a stop to the growing numbers of prostitutes in Zamboanga.

Many establishments, from beer houses to night clubs or karaoke pubs, to beach resorts, and massage parlors, including expensive health clubs, could also provide a venue for prostitution.

The cities of Davao, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos and Pagadian also face similar prostitution problems, but the luck of money hampers the government's campaign to eradicate them.

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