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Thursday, March 21, 2019
Sol F. Juvida
MANILA, Oct 12 1997 (IPS) - Sharon, a 13 years-old schoolgirl was forEver cutting classes at her village school and, fearful of her parents wrath, took a bus from her village and headed for the big city – Manila.
She wound up in Luneta Park, where a kindly stranger befriended her – and then her real troubles began.
“She looked motherly,” Sharon said of the woman she would later call ‘Sister Malou’. “She said we wouldn’t go far and that she’d give me a good job.”
Malou took the girl to Angeles City in Pampanga province north of Manila, down to a cluster of shanties separated by dark, narrow alleys. Before the night was over, someone had paid 30 U.S. dollars to sleep with Sharon, a virgin.
“My back ached and I bled,” she said, recalling that her share of the money that night was just over one dollar. “I tried to run away but the guard at the door blocked my way and pushed me back into the room. I cried and cried all night.”
Sharon had wound up in the “Area”, an Angeles City ghetto known for supplying children for the sex trade. Of some 500 sex workers in the town, about 75 percent are children, says Susan Pineda, head of the group Pro-Women Action.
At the house where Sharon spent seven months, five of the eight “working girls” were under 17.
Sharon had eight to 15 customers every night, even when she had her menstrual period or was running a fever. By the time she escaped with a customer’s help last February, Sharon estimates she has had serviced more than 1,500 clients.
Sharon is back with her family now, but social workers say thousands more young girls – and boys – remain trapped in the country’s flourishing sex trade.
Area is only one of the growing number of sites that have become notorious for child prostitution. In 1984, there were only seven provinces that harboured child sex rings but today, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says there is a high incidence of the social scourge in 37 provinces.
The Philippines is now fourth among nine countries with the most number of children working as prostiutes – some 60,000 to 100,000, according to UNICEF and non-governmental organisations.
Many social workers point to the fear of AIDS as one of the main reasons for the flourishing trade in younger sex partners as cusatomers believe them to be “safe.” Cultural myths also have a role in the preference for very young boys or girls. Some Asians seek out young partners for their “rejuvenating or reinvigorating” qualities. Western pedophiles are said to have a preference for Asian children because of their smooth skin.
“The influx of sex tourists and the existence of sex tours catering to Japanese, European and other Caucasian tourists are the reasons why the sex trade of children refuses to die in the Philippines,” said the Bangkok-based End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT).
“High-spending sex tourists are the main clients because of the instant money and brisk business they bring in,” it added.
The country’s top five spots for child prostitution all have more than their fair share of foreign visitors: Metro Manila, Angeles City, Puerto Galera in Mindoro province, Davao and Cebu.
But it is not only foreigners who use the services of child prostiutes. Sharon says that while there were foreigners among her customers, most were Filipinos.
A study by the Women’s Education, Development, Productivity and Research Organisation says while there is a “substantial proportion” of foreign customers due to sex tourism, “Filipinos are the main users of Filipinas forced into prostitution”.
And while the behaviour of Filipino clients of prostituted children has yet to be studied, sociologists say men who hire female sexual partners often do not care if a girl is 15 or 25.
The coldness of the transaction between client and sex worker is captured by Sharon’s description of her life in prostitution: “Whenever there’s a customer, someone claps. We all go out, the customer chooses, and we go back to our rooms.”
At the Luneta where Sharon was recruited, many more youngsters are there not to play but to earn money through sex.
Pills and condoms are unknown among the park’s children, says Miki. Gonorrhea is the most common sexually transmitted disease among them. “They drink water with a bit of Tide (detergent) in the belief this would prevent gonorrhea,” says Louie Orpea, a street educator.
Social workers say parents, citing poverty and sheer desperation, are sometimes the ones who introduce their children to the sex trade. Recently, a Filipino mother was sentenced to 10 years in jail for forcing her 15-year-old daughter to become an “erotic dancer”.
Many child sex workers – aged mostly from 11 to 15-year-olds – interviewed for a study by the Institute for the Protection of Children said relatives introduced them to prostitution, while others said they were recruited by friends.
Police say poverty and peer pressure led four 15-year-old students to agree to have sex with a former congressman, Manolet Lavides. Lavides had allegedly promised at least 30 dollars for each tryst with him at a motel, more than enough for the new pair of shoes one of them said she had needed. Lavides also offered them scholarships, they said.
Arcilla says the girls’ parents when told of what happened. “They knew nothing about what was happening to their children,” said a policeman who is a cousin of the father of one of the girls. “They were all too busy trying to make a living.” The justice department filed suit against Lavides, but he was quick to post bail.
Nick Arriola of the Bahay Tuluyan halfway house for streetchildren wants strict implementation of the law and a no- bail policy for those who exploit children.
In some cases, youngsters have come forward to have foreign pedophiles arrested, only to see them post bail or flee the country. Many victims say they regret reporting the offense, for which they underwent humiliating picture sessions.
Lawyer Jose Vener Ibarra of the Advocacy for Children’s Rights says the Philippines is the first Asian country to pass an anti- child abuse law. But while “we are good at writing laws, the administration of law is the problem. There are a lot of acquittals in the Philippine court system.”
Records at the social welfare department show that 158 cases of child abuse — including sexual exploitation of minors — were filed in court from 1994 to 1996. Only five led to convictions.
Child rights activists say young prostitutes often remain prisoners of their damaged psyche despite rehabilitation efforts. The longer a child stays in the sex trade, the harder it is to overcome the trauma, says Dr Norietta Calma of the Philippine General Hospital’s Child Protection Unit.
Often, children in rehabilitation “want to change but can’t get out of the system. They feel caged and trapped,” she says. Still, therapy can help prostituted children face the truth and finally “forgive themselves.”
ECPAT coordinator Ron O’Grady thinks otherwise, as he has seen “no evidence” that children caught up in prostitution for some time can ever be rehabilitated.
“The experience of social workers in Asia is that few children rescued from brothels have been able to begin living anything like a healthy life again,” added O’Grady. “The wisdom of trying to end the prostitution of children rather than attempting to assist the victims has been confirmed.”
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