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Concerns grow over human trafficking as financial crisis deepens

Woman worker at Samar Province, awaiting a bus bound for Manila. The global economic crisis is creating massive job losses in the Philippines, particularly for women, who are the mainstay of the export sector. Authorities fear they will increasingly fall Newsbreak
Concerns are growing that the global economic slump, which is causing increased joblessness, could see an increase in human trafficking, said specialists.

Law enforcers, labour leaders and social workers fear the unemployed may become increasingly desperate, making them vulnerable to human traffickers. Most of the Filipinos being laid off are women working in the export sector, so there is concern they will be at particular risk.

"Along with a possible upsurge of criminality as joblessness and poverty spread, there could be a rise in cases of human trafficking," says lawyer Ferdinand Lavin, chief of the National Bureau of Investigations (NBI) Anti-Human Trafficking Division. "People will be more aggressive in finding jobs and human traffickers will take advantage of the situation."

"It is a valid fear," says Julius Cainglet, spokesman for the Federation of Free Workers. "We tell our recently displaced workers to upgrade their skills so they can find work again and not be victimised by human traffickers."

In 2007, the NBI dealt with 122 cases of human trafficking and in 2008, 130. Lavin says 90 percent of these were women who were victims of forced labour and exploitation.

There is no official government data on trafficking but Visayan Forum, a national NGO, said it had assisted 32,000 people since 2003, when the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act was made law.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), however, said it had assisted only 6,000 victims of trafficking since 2003. Many of them were minors forced in sex slavery both domestically and outside the country. The DSWD data did not include men.

Social worker Ruby Dumpit, head of the community-based service unit of the DSWD, said the majority of trafficking victims were women. "They would prefer to work abroad and in their desperation, are vulnerable to exploitation. Others look for [normal] jobs in urban areas but end up in brothels."

Dumpit says the growing joblessness also makes children vulnerable to trafficking as they are pressured to help boost the family income. Often, these minors find themselves being forced into pornography or prostitution, he says.  

Denise, not her real name, was recently rescued by NBI operatives from a bar in Pasay City. Her parents were jobless and she was convinced by an unscrupulous job recruiter to leave her home province of Leyte ostensibly to work as a waitress in a restaurant in Metro Manila. She ended up working in the bar, younger than the 18 legal limit, and then was forced into prostitution. "I had to help my family since my parents have no work," she says. She is now undergoing counselling at a shelter for trafficked women.

Women most vulnerable

The National Economic Development Authority and the Labor Department say 42,000 people have lost their jobs in the Philippines since the financial meltdown began, mostly in export industries.

The Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), a local NGO, says women are especially vulnerable to job loss and exploitation since the sectors heavily affected by the global slump principally employ women.

EILER executive director, Anna Leah Colina, said: "Women account for 80 percent of the workers in export processing zones." This does not include the contractual workers who have no security benefits.

The government has set aside P330 billion (US$6.8 billion) for a stimulus package. A third of the money will be spent on infrastructure projects. But Cainglet said the jobs to be created in infrastructure will mainly benefit male, not female, workers.

The Philippines enacted the anti-trafficking in law 2003 and authorities have so far secured only 12 convictions, representing only 2 percent of the total 573 cases filed by the Department of Justice.

Dumpit says the low conviction rate is not expected to deter trafficking perpetrators. "And more jobless people means more potential victims for them."

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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