(Fr. Shay's columns are published in The Manila Times,
in publications in Ireland, the UK, Hong Kong, and on-line.)
The United States has called for a boycott of a dozen Philippine exports because of the widespread use of child labor in agriculture, tobacco, pig raising, fireworks and the making of child pornography. The United States Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) acting under the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 and 2008 says some Philippines exports should be boycotted by US customers.
This is a devastating blow to the Philippine economy and should never happen but it is a powerful argument for the promotion and adoption of Fair Trade criteria. The US Department of Labor report covers 58 countries worldwide and the Philippines is among the offenders. The report is an indication of the international outrage and concern for the plight of hundreds of thousands of exploited Filipino children. The Philippine Department of Labor (DOLE) says it is doing all it can to stop the abuse. Many of the Filipino ruling elite living in obscene luxury apparently have no knowledge or interest in the plight of the children.
Children work as long as 12 hours a day on banana plantations that are sprayed with deadly pesticides and efforts by church and NGO groups to have them banned has largely been ignored by the powerful politically well-connected tycoons that own most of the export plantations.
While there is much that needs to change, Fair Trade and ethical trading is growing in the country and boosting exports. Philippine Brand and Preda Fair Trade dried mango is what the government should be promoting and customers are buying. They are free of child labor, chemicals and additives and bring great benefits to children and their families. The proceeds help the children of farmers and the victims of abuse.
Fifteen year-old Amabelle was telling her story and being supported and comforted by Maria, the social worker. This safe haven is PREDA Children’s Home partially supported by the sale of Preda Fair Trade Dried mangos. Here, she found a safe haven and protection from her sexual abusers and exploiters. She told how she was brought from her rural village, lured with the promise of a job in a posh hotel but instead sold to a sex club. She owed money for transport, food, board and lodging and would be jailed if she refused to pay. She was forced to dance nude while being video taped. Later she was taken to a cubical at the back of the sex club and raped.
The horrific abuse was videotaped to be sold and spread over the internet as child pornography. This is nothing unusual, such child sexual abuse is commonplace here with the complicity of corrupt officials who give operating permits to the sex clubs. The uncontrolled flood of foreign and local sex tourists hungry for sex with minors are the big spenders. They enjoy impunity from investigation, arrest, and prosecution. Between January and August this year almost 4 million tourists entered the Philippines, how many of them were single males? This is an increase of 4 % over this time last year according to Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.
According to some critics, the root of the problem is the non prosecution of the suspects due to corruption, bribery and political influence. However there are too few prosecutors due to low pay, huge case work and the failure of police to investigate, gather and present credible evidence against abusers and traffickers. Meanwhile, the children suffer unbelievable abuse in this modern sex slavery.
Foreign governments, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank give millions of tax payers money to the Philippine government for the so called “development projects” much of it is siphoned off by corrupt officials for lavish living.
But little is given to NGO’s providing safe havens and legal assistance to the countless victims of child sexual exploitation especially done by local and foreign nationals. And at what stage is the prosecution of that suspected pedophile, an official of the World Health Organization caught in the act with small boys in his car in Metro Manila? Unless there is an awaking among Filipinos to defend the rights of exploited children, hundreds of pedophiles and sex tourists will continue to abuse minors with impunity. END