15, fears the city streets. People scurry from corner to corner.
Vehicles jam major thoroughfares. The city streets are a lot
different from the unpaved roads of her hometown in Balingasag,
Misamis Oriental, a province north of Mindanao. There, life
is simple, quiet and the air smells of golden rice fields.
po ang buhay namin doon. Mahirap pong kumita.(But our life
was difficult there. It’s hard to earn money),”
Elena is the eldest
among three siblings. Her parents are both farmers whose income
from tilling the soil is insufficient to support them all.
Being the eldest, she was obliged to help her family eke out
a living. And her parents thought that the offer of a recruiter
for Elena to work in Manila was the answer.
to work in the city
“Hindi ko gustong magpunta dito sa Maynila kaso gusto
ng magulang ko. Nabigyan na kasi sila ng pera…P500.
Sabi ko bata pa ako. Sabi nila hindi naman daw mahahalata.
Pwede nang sabihing 18. Sabi ko isoli nila ang pera. Kaso
nagastos na raw nila at kailangan din namin ng pera. (I didn’t
want to go here in Manila but my parents wanted me to. They
were already given the money…500 pesos. I told them
I am still young. They said it would not be noticeable. I
could be 18. I told them to return the money. But they already
spent it, and we really needed money.),” Elena says.
She worked as a
housemaid in Manila for only two weeks. Because she could
not cook, her employer sent her back to her recruiter. After
two days, her recruiter took her to the province of Sta. Ana,
Pampanga to serve a family of a police officer. The police
officer allegedly raped her twice.
Elena to beg the police officer to send her back to the recruiter.
He agreed on a condition that she would not tell anyone of
the incidents or else he would kill her. But Elena eventually
told her recruiter of what happened.
sagot po sa akin ‘O nagalaw ka na pala, di mag-prostitute
ka na lang.’(But the answer to me was ‘So, you
were raped, then be a prostitute then),“ Elena says.
unaffected attitude forced Elena and four other children of
her age to escape one night. She went to her uncle’s
house in Tondo, an urban-poor district in Manila.
by an NGO and meeting other trafficked children
And because Tondo was near the Manila port area, Elena tried
many times to board a ship going to her hometown. A port police
officer saw her wandering inside the port and, upon learning
about her experiences, took her to the Visayan Forum Foundation
(VF), a non-governmental organization helping vulnerable migrant
working children. At the VF center, she met other children
like her. One of them became her best friend Len.
Like Elena, Len,
14, finds life difficult in her hometown in Samar despite
the peace and beauty that the province offers. Her father,
a fisherman, cannot fully support them all. It was a hand-to-mouth
existence for her family of four.
Len went to Manila
after a recruiter offered her a good and high-paying job,
only to end up in the hands of Chinese employers who maltreated
po nila ako, lalo na iyong nanay, kapag nagagalit sila sa
akin. Kasi po, ako pa magpapaalala sa mga anak nya na maligo
na. Ang laki-laki na, dalawang lalaki, mga 20-21 years old
na, papaalahanan ko pa. Tapos pag hindi po sumunod, ako ang
pinapagalitan ng nanay. Minsan nga po dumugo ang ulo ko kasi
binato ho ako ng plastic na upuan. (When they’re angry
with me, especially the mother, they would hurt me. I even
had to remind her two sons to take a bath. But they’re
too old, around 20-21 years old, to be reminded to take a
bath. And when they didn’t follow, the mother would
scold me. Once my head bled because they threw a plastic chair
at me.),” Len narrates, pausing once in a while as she
recalls her sad past.
Len endured the
daily abuses for a year and half and received no salary. A
neighbor took pity on Elena, helped her escape and hid her
in her house. After a few days, the neighbor took Len to the
The fate of Elena
and Len in Manila is not an isolated case. There are many
young children who are taken from the provinces and promised
a good job and big income in Metro Manila only to be exploited
by recruiters and employers.
According to VF
president Ma. Cecilia Flores-Oebanda, ports are the entry
points of child trafficking. Every year an estimated four
million people in search of work and opportunities flood Metro
Manila thru the North Harbor alone, and a growing number is
composed of young children who are forced to abusive work.
child trafficking as the recruiting of children from the provinces
to work in another land unfamiliar to them. These children,
she adds, usually fall into the worst forms of child labor
like prostitution, domestic work, factory work, construction
and jobs that could endanger their health, safety and morals.
Children who were
intercepted at the Manila port area are usually taken to the
VF for temporary shelter. The foundation helps children overcome
their traumatic experiences and start a new life. It also
helps children understand the nature of child trafficking
and the hazard of child labor. Once in a while, the VF holds
an educational tour as a recreational activity for the children.
doesn’t have the numbers of children being illegally
recruited at the moment, a VF research however shows that
young people from 15-22 years old, many are first-timers in
Manila, are trafficked for child labor and prostitution.
out of twenty children travel to their destinations without
any work contract. Despite such absence of protective clauses,
some 34% did not experience any problem. But six out of ten
revealed that their fare is deducted from their salary, 19%
could not adjust with the language, and the rest experienced
fear, jealousy and intimidation,” the research reveals.
There are now almost
four million working children in the Philippines, according
to the Philippine Survey on Children 2001 conducted by the
National Statistics Office (NSO). Of the four million, 1.9
million (48%) are 10-14 years old and 1.8 million (46%) are
15-17 years old. There are more male working children 5-17
years old (2.5 million or 63.4%) than female working children
(1.5 million or 36.6%).
Although a typical
working child is male, female children are often employed
as domestic helpers.
The growing number
of child trafficking thru the ports posed a big challenge
for Cecilia. In August 2000, she formed a halfway house called
Bahay Silungan sa Daungan (Port Halfway House) to “assist,
protect and inform women and children who are traveling or
stranded at the ports …and strengthen efforts of groups
and individuals in the port to monitor, assist or refer suspected
cases of trafficking.”
Children stay at
the Port Halfway House for a maximum of three months. During
this time, the VF helps them get back home to their respective
naman nagtatagal kasi tinutulungan naming magsampa ng kaso
gaya ng child abuse o rape. (Others stay longer because we
assist them in filing cases like child abuse or rape before
the court),” Cecilia says.
campaign against child trafficking
Seeing the needs to protect the children, the Fifth Country
Programme for Children (CPC V) of the United Nations Children’s
Fund’s (UNICEF) and the Philippine government has integrated
a child protection approach for children in need of special
Thru the UNICEF’s
Child Laborers and Advocates for Social Participation, youths
and child labor leaders are lectured on the condition of child
trafficking in the country. The program has also been conducting
seminars, youth camps activities and signature campaigns in
support of the VF to stop child trafficking.
like the Department of Social Welfare, the Department of Labor
and Employment and the Philippine Ports Authority have helped
VF by verifying recruiter’s work permits, workplace
visitation and taking legal actions or removal operations
with private shipping companies, on the other hand, has provided
them useful information on possible victims of trafficking
However, some children
who were returned to their respective provinces by VF were
brought back to Manila by the parents themselves. A mother
herself, Cecilia knows that no mother would want her child
to work at such an early age. But poverty forces parents to
Cecilia says that education and livelihood projects in rural
areas are two vital keys that would help lessen child trafficking
in the country. “Kaya kailangan talagang mabigyang pansin
ng ating gobyerno ang kahalagahan ng edukasyon lalo na sa
probinsya. Importante rin na maturuan ng livelihood ang mga
nayon para hindi na nila ipapadala ang kanilang mga anak dito
sa Maynila para magtrabaho. (The government should give importance
to education especially in the provinces. It is also important
to teach livelihood to people in the rural areas to avoid
sending their children in Manila for work.)
Just like what
Elena says, “Mahirap po ang buhay namin doon.(Our life
was difficult there.)”. At her early age, she knows
of poverty. And she knows that education, not hard labor,
is the answer.
Elena looks at
the city with dread. "Hindi po pala maganda dito. (It
is not nice here)." In the meantime, she is undergoing
counseling to help her put her life on track again. She tries
hard to deal with what happened to her. Deep in her heart,
she knows she can leave these memories behind and move on.
"I just want
to go home."