YESTERDAY, October 5, was the International Day of No Prostitution, and what has already become a tradition for the past few years, the prostituted women and children gathered for one morning, this time at the Cinematheque along Palma Gil Street for a screening of a short documentary about prostituted and trafficked children of Davao City.
A few days earlier, as the Talikala Inc., the non-government organization (NGO) working with prostituted women and children since 1987, drummed up interest for the International Day, executive director Jeanette C. Ampog revealed that the youngest prostituted child they have recorded was nine-year-old.
Every year, the age goes down as more and more children are trafficked, enticed by better prospects in life but ending up like the children they have now. Near-broken.
Sitting squat on the aisle as the Cinematheque was full of these women, children, and their supporters, I was observing the row of girls at my vantage point.
All dolled up, pretty, too. But definitely not even 18.
The short documentary “Bibili ka ba” tells the story of prostituted women as it challenges people to look at their situations and not merely blame them for what they have become.
The most rending part is the voice of a girl saying, “Usahay makaingon sa akong sarili nganong ari man n? Dili nako ni gusto. Ang gusto nako moeskwela ko, dili nako gusto mamuring (Many times I ask myself why are we here? I never wanted this. All I wanted was to go to school, I never wanted to be prostituted).”
It’s difficult, however, to be sympathetic to these girls and women when you bump into them on the street while they go about their business. There, they don their tough armors and put on their swagger.
A morose look doesn’t sell. But listening to them at their most vulnerable, the stories will paint a different picture.
No one ever wants to be prostituted. That is a fact.
But… no one also wants to live in constant hunger and insecurity, while very few little girls will ever be ready to understand that one does not lose one’s value after being raped.
It’s a cycle of suffering and exploitation, the story like many others. A girl from a dysfunctional family is sexually abused by either a friend, a sibling’s friend, a kin or the father, and everything goes downhill from there.
In the story, one was raped by her sister’s boyfriend.
With the prevailing belief that a girl loses her value once she loses her virginity, the young and unguided would tend to lose herself because she was forced to give this up.
“Gitawag ko nila buntog, burikat, buring, unsa klase ko nga babaye nga mouli ing-ani nga orasa? Siyempre sa edad nako ato katorse anyos (They called me all words that mean prostitute, they leer at me saying do decent girls go home at this time? Of course, I was 14 years old at that time…),” one of the women who told their stories in the documentary related.
Lack of education and decent jobs for parents, who themselves most likely became parents before they were prepared for it, force families into extreme poverty. Extreme poverty push the young to find some source. The boys would go around scavenging garbage, the girls will be led somewhere else.
Put in lust of those who surround the girls as they grow up in the slums, then sexual abuse is not far away. Dribble in lack of supervision, education, and the ability to discern, then a girl-child becomes easy prey.
Around ten years ago, a prostituted girl of 17 was already an aberration.
Around five years ago, the girls barely in their teens were already observed in this illicit trade.
Today, the youngest is at nine.
Lawig Bubai, an organization of prostituted women and survivors, estimate around 900 women working as guest relations officers in bars.
Many of them, Lawig Bubai spokesperson Lory Pabunag said, are trafficked from somewhere else.
Through the more than a decade that Talikala has existed and Lawig Bubai was organized, the promised jobs in City Hall for prostituted women who have opted to leave remain a promise.
“Asa na mi karon (You’re asking where are we now)?” a survivor asked the crowd. “Nia pa mi dinhi, nagpaabot (We’re still here, waiting).”
For how long?
For as long as basic livelihood and education services are not available to the majority of the poor, they will be there, waiting, and in between falling down the cracks where the dark world of prostitution reigns.
The International Day of No Prostitution is one day in a year when the prostituted women and children do not go out to sell their bodies. The dream is that the day will come when not one woman or child will have to, at any day of the year.