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Protection zones needed for human trafficking victims

Inaction and judicial corruption let trafficking thrive

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  • Fr Shay Cullen, Manila
  • Philippines
  • August 8, 2014
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It is a cruel and hideous crime to capture and enslave an innocent person. To make money and indulge in greed and avarice by forcing the poor and vulnerable to work for little or no payment is slavery. 

The Philippines, where I am based, is listed by the US State Department’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report as a Tier 2 country, defined as those countries “whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards”. 

The experience on the ground however is that human trafficking is rampant, and that government inaction and a corrupt judicial system allow it to thrive. 

According to the report, there are more than 20 million people throughout the world who are held captive, victims of traffickers and slavers. The crime is not confined to the poorest of Asian, South American, and African countries. It is also common in developed nations. 

In Europe and the US, millions are trapped in bonded labor by debt, threats and intimidation. Many are trafficked into European Union countries from Eastern Europe. They are lured with promises of high paying jobs and thrown into brothels.

The mega-brothels conveniently situated near European international airports have hundreds of young girls trapped as prostitutes. 

Prostitution has been legalized in most European countries, and while this provides protection to EU women who have freely chosen to be sex workers, it gives little or no protection to undocumented migrants.

That is the status of many victims of human trafficking. Their passports and identity documents are taken from them by traffickers, who can control, intimidate, and threaten the victims.

In the Philippines, perpetrators are seldom arrested or convicted due to incompetent or corrupt prosecutors, judges and police. Despite the government’s claims to have increased the conviction rate, the situation is still dismal.

Human traffickers are wealthy, and are a big source of income for corrupt officials. They keep paying to remain free, and operate with impunity.

Local Philippine officials issue licenses and operating permits to sex bars and girly clubs. This is where thousands of young Filipinos, many underage minors, are bought and sold. It is a meat market of minors.

The sex industry depends on traffickers to supply young girls. There is need, therefore, for an end to that industry.

The country is accused of condoning these crimes by its inaction, pitiful arrest record, almost non-conviction rate, and corrupt judicial system. I have experienced apathy-riddled courts where the only swift decision is to order coffee and donuts for morning tea.

What is significant about the current United States policy is its integration of anti-trafficking measures into diplomatic and development work. The US policy insists on the rule of law in protecting victims and bringing abusers and exploiters to justice.

From this perspective, advocates are urging the US government to develop an immigration rule whereby the government will list corrupt policemen, prosecutors, and judges from trafficking countries, and prevent them and their relatives from entering America.

In launching the report in June, US Secretary of State John Kerry said: "Wherever the rule of law is weak, where corruption is most ingrained, and where populations can’t count on the protection of governments and of law enforcement, there you find zones of vulnerability to trafficking.

“But wherever rule of law is strong, where individuals are willing to speak out, and governments willing to listen, we find zones of protection against trafficking.”

We need more of these zones of protection.

Fr Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary priest. He established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and promote the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

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