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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

The evil web of human trafficking

The evil web of human trafficking

Children living in urban poor communities are prone to fall victim to human traffickers. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Published: April 17, 2019 10:01 AM GMT
In some countries, child abuse is tolerated under the guise of cultural practices like child marriage

The most recent case of human trafficking that I have been involved in, and they are many, is that of Angelica, a 15-year-old girl sold by her mother to her employer, a rough, crude man who has a lot of money to buy children for sexual abuse.

Angelica was brought to this man in a distant town to be sexually exploited and abused. He took her to a hotel, and the hotel manager and staff, either ignored him and the child or were complicit in the trafficking. Angelica’s mother is also guilty of the human trafficking of her own child.

The man, a rapist, sexually abused Angelica several times. He gave money to her and to her mother. The child could not resist, being a minor and under the power and influence of adults, including her mother.

There are many hundreds of thousands of similar cases of human trafficking and abuse happening every day around the world. It is all too common especially in Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the United States where laws are lax and not enforced.

In some countries, child abuse is tolerated under the guise of cultural practice like child marriage, which is rampant in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

An estimated 24.5 million adults, children and youth have been victims and were trafficked worldwide in the past decade by organized crime syndicates. Human traffickers are criminals who operate in many ways. Most of the 24.5 million victims are women and 33 percent are children under the age of 18. 

The victims of human trafficking are almost always poor, unemployed, not well educated and vulnerable. Many minors come from broken families, are abandoned and left with a distant relative who neglects them and treats them as a servant or sells them to traffickers.

The children are frequently abused, underpaid and sexually exploited. The root of the problem is in the broken home. Without a secure, stable, loving and caring family, children don’t have a chance to succeed in life. When the parents have no love for each other, the child is generally unloved too. They are easy prey for human traffickers.

Human trafficking and abuse of women and minors as underpaid labor is so widespread that millions of people are trafficked everywhere. 

From Eastern Europe, many thousands are trafficked and brought to wealthy Europeans in the mega-brothels, which are legal although the women are not free to leave and are trapped in a web of insidious debt.  

In countries like the Philippines, the age of sexual consent for a child under the Penal Code is very low, 12 years of age, and abusers take advantage of it to justify a relationship. 

The country's Penal Code must be changed. But in the Philippines the child protection law supersedes the old Penal Code. Anyone who abuses a child sexually below the age of 18 is criminally liable. If the child is below 12 years of age, it is statutory rape.

If you know of a child being abused physically, psychologically or sexually, you are morally and legally obliged to report the abuse to the parents or relatives, to a trained social worker, a police officer or government official or to anyone who can help.

Failure to do so makes a person liable to complaints of complicity, aiding and abetting child abuse and human trafficking and even obstruction of justice if one person stopped another from reporting it and especially if the child asked for help and was refused.

In the case of Angelica, it was the child who suffered greatly. She hated what her mother and the man did to her, and one day just after another session in the hotel, she went to a local government official and reported that she was being abused. 

She did not report that her mother sold her to the accused.  

The suspect was arrested and jailed right away after the report was received. He was charged with human trafficking and child rape. He paid the grandmother to file a case of "habeas corpus" to get the child out of Preda, our home for abused children. But the child told the judge that she wanted to stay. 

The case of human trafficking and child rape is ongoing and Angelica, after a year in recovery, was able to testify clearly and coherently. He will surely be convicted.

It is very important that we all understand and are aware what is going on in the world. The human trafficking of children for sexual exploitation is an everyday crime. Child sexual abuse is all around us, we just don’t know it as the victims are ordered with threats to remain silent. 

It’s a fact that one in four girls are sexually abused at least once in their lifetime. The demand is persistent, abusive men even consider it an entitlement to do it and disregard and circumvent laws forbidding it with the help of human traffickers, corrupt police and sex tourist hotels and resort owners. 

Some officials are child abusers themselves. It is an urgent demand fueled by the internet and online cyber-sex business catering to the wealthy elite who want such evil sexual satisfaction, dominance and control of other human beings.

This terrible exploitation of human beings like what happened to Angelica is slavery, banned but never conquered, condemned but never eliminated, opposed but still lives on. We must never give up the fight to overcome this pernicious evil and save the millions of exploited victims.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia