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At a glance: Philippines

Freed from the sex trade, girls get a new start

© UNICEF video
UNICEF-supported centres provide shelter, counselling, and vocational training that will help the girls protect themselves from abuse and gain the skills they need to transform their lives.

By Thierry Delvigne-Jean

NEW YORK, 26 August 2005 – Thousands of girls and young women pour into Manila every year in search of work to support their family. Lured by the promise of a better life, many fall prey to the city’s sex industry.

Between 60,000 and 100,000 children* are engaged in prostitution in the Philippines – the vast majority are girls. Alone and without legal papers, they simply vanish into the cities’ bars and brothels.

Grace was only thirteen when she arrived in the capital to work as a maid. But the work promised by recruiters turned out to be sex work in the red light district.

“I never imagined I would land in this kind of job, but I found myself trapped and without money, and I had to start working right away.”

Grace’s story is not unusual. Once they are in the hands of their abusers, the girls are exploited and held captive for years. They work every night until early in the morning to pay their dues to the bar owner. And in addition to their nightly shift at the club, the girls have to do various chores, such as cleaning and washing clothes.

“At times, I wanted to end my life because I felt trapped there forever. We never went out. We were like prisoners,” explains Grace.

The task of protecting these vulnerable children from exploitation requires coordinated efforts. As part of a national plan against commercial sexual exploitation, the Filipino government created a women’s desk, which brings together various government agencies, law enforcement authorities and local organizations in an effort to identify at-risk girls before they are drawn into the sex trade – and free children from their abusers. Over the past few years, outreach programmes and rescue operations enabled thousands of children to get a new start.

© UNICEF video
Alone and without legal papers, the girls simply vanish into the cities’ bars and brothels, where they are exploited for years.

UNICEF supports a number of local organizations, such as ECPAT**, which work to ensure that the girls receive shelter, counselling, and vocational training that will help them protect themselves from abuse and gain the skills they need to transform their lives.

Liza was approached by ECPAT, while she was working in a brothel in Cebu City. The nineteen-year-old girl decided she would take no more of the abuse, and was determined to help the others girls in the brothel as well.

“I asked the girls if they wanted to escape, and they said yes. So I told them, let’s do it,” she said.

She told her story to ECPAT, and as a result, 43 girls were rescued and later filed charges against their recruiters.

Since her rescue, Liza has appeared as witness in the trial of her abusers. With the support of ECPAT, she went back to school and is learning culinary skills.

Grace also found refuge at a halfway house after being held captive for seven years. She is now thinking about a brighter future.

“I want to get my two children, though not right now, said Grace. “My children are growing older, and I don’t want them to learn about my past work. I want to give them a good and decent life.”

UNICEF works nationally and internationally to combat the commercial exploitation of children. At the global level, UNICEF advocates for the ratification and enforcement of international laws that protect children against abuses. At the national level, UNICEF works with governments, non-governmental organizations and communities to combat the exploitation of children. Education is key in prevention efforts. When children are in school, they are less vulnerable to people who may try to coerce them into the sex trade.

Names have been changed.

* NSO Survey 2001, UNICEF Philippines
** End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.




26 August, 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Thierry Delvigne-Jean reports on the efforts to protect children from sexual abuse in the Philippines.

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