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Philippine women's group sounds alarm on sexual exploitation

Natural disasters can increase risks to young women and children

Philippine women's group sounds alarm on sexual exploitation

Families like this one, made homeless by Typhoon Haiyan, are said to be extra vulnerable to trafficking and sex tourism (Photo: Vincent Go) reporter, Manila

November 27, 2013

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A women's rights group this week warned of ongoing threats of sexual exploitation of young women and children in the country, particuarly in the wake of natural disasters.

The warning comes as the country still reels from the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan and indications that sexual predators often take advantage of such crises to exploit the vulnerable.

"Amid poverty, landlessness, unemployment, exacerbated by the onslaught of natural and manmade disasters... women and children have become most vulnerable to violence," said Luzviminda Ilagan of the women's group Gabriela.

"We cannot underscore enough the vulnerability of children to violence, prostitution and trafficking," Ilagan said during the observance of National Consciousness Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Monday.

Data from the Philippine National Police show that 3,861 children and minors have become victims of rape and attempted rape in the past year. Police records also show that there were 249 cases of trafficking involving minors.

The police noted that in 2012 alone, there were 15,969 cases of violence against women and children, and 5,180 cases of rape and attempted rape cases.

Ilagan said her group is also investigating reports of rape and other incidents of violence against women and children in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan earlier this month.

"We have been receiving reports that there are cases of violence against women and children in disaster areas," she said, adding that some people take advantage of the extra vulnerability of women and children in devastated areas.

Ilagan recalled that Gabriela documented cases of prostitution in exchange for rice in evacuation sites in the province of Zambales after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

Irish missionary priest Shay Cullen, who has been working in the Philippines for four decades, said the chaos and hunger in the aftermath of disasters provide the perfect setup for sex abusers.

The priest said children who lost homes and families become vulnerable to child abuse and human trafficking.

"Under the pretext of saving or taking care of children, traffickers kidnap them and sell them to pedophiles," said Cullen, who established the People’s Recovery, Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation to help prostituted women and children.

Early this month, the Dutch nongovernment group Terre des Hommes revealed that it tracked over 20,000 pedophiles and some 1,000 others through an operation called “Sweetie,” which involved the creation of a digital 10-year-old Filipino girl.

"While Sweetie may be virtual or not real, we all know that there are tens of thousands of real Sweeties in the Philippines," Ilagan said. 

"Underlying Sweetie’s credibility as a subject is the reality of poverty in the Philippines that forces women and girls to be victims of cyber prostitution," Ilagan said.

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