“GIADTO ko sa balay. Ilaha ko gikuha didtoa ba. Sabay ko sa akong barkada. Pag-abot didto gianaan ko ni Mommy Grace ug katong kauban niya, kuyog ba daw ko? Ana ko, nagduha-duha ko mukuyog, niato siya, sige na gud kay wala mi’y kauban unya gamay ra mi babae unya mamugos gani sila sa akoa. Sige na lang gud ko, testingan lang pud nako. Duha mi sa akong kauban. Pagkahuman niato, gidali-dali nila ko lakaw kay basin maapsan daw ko ni mama…”
(They went to my house. I was with a friend. Mommy Grace and her companion asked me if I want to go with them. I told them I was having second thoughts, but they urged me, saying they need more girls to join them. I relented, said I’ll try this one out. I had my friend with me. The moment I said I’d go, they rushed me up saying we should hurry lest my mother will catch us.)
This is how Mary (not her real name) became a bar dancer and was prostituted at 14 for six months, just two years ago. Mommy Grace was but a woman whom she met the first time, but who enticed her with the promise of a better life along with other girls.
Mary said that they disembarked near Tulip Drive where there was a van, the “owner” of which told them they will be provided well.
“Giistoryahan mi na magwapa daw lagi mi, manambok daw mi, kumpleto sa pagkaon unya libre tuluganan, libre gamit tanan daw (He told us that we will be made beautiful, that we will be fed well, housed for free and be provided with all our needs for free),” she said.
She admitted that she was not fully convinced and wanted to opt out, but this time, she was not allowed to.
“Dili na man mi panaogon. Iyaha ko gipugos. Pag-abot sa Isulan sa Sultan Kudarat, didto wala ko kabalo na ang trabaho namo maghubo-hubo tanan (We were not allowed to leave, I was forced to ride the van. It was only when we reached Isulan in Sultan Kudarat that I learned our work was to dance naked in a bar),” Mary added.
Inside the van were young girls as well, including one other friend who was 16 years old at that time. Mary was the youngest. The others were between 15-17 of age. Her friend managed to jump out of the van.
Prisoner for sex
In Isulan, they were not allowed to leave their house without a man guarding them. Even when they go out to the mall to buy stuff, someone goes with them. Their house is locked most of the time. They can ask to go out to buy something from a sari-sari store across the street, but still, they can only do so with a male escort.
There were around ten dancers in the club, but for reasons she does not know, Mary said, she was the only one being sold to men for sex outside the club.
“Gipagamit ko tapos gibayaran ko (I was used for sex and then they pay me),” she said.
Rescue came in the form of a raid six months later.
“Hilak-hilak ko okay abi nako dili na ko makabalik sa amo (I was crying because I thought I will never be able to go home again).”
Along with the policemen who raided the bar was her mother. “Hilak siya (She was crying).”
It was her friend who managed to jump out of the van who told her mother her possible whereabouts.
Not an isolated case
Child trafficking is a growing concern among non-government organizations working with children in Davao. Some are recruited for household work, but many girls are recruited for sex. According to Jeanette L. Ampog, executive director of Talikala Inc., for the period of January to March 2013 alone, they recorded 46 trafficking cases of which around 80 percent involves minors.
“Ang ages ng na-trafficked kay 14-20 years old. Ang purpose ay for sexual exploitation. Davao-Puerto Galera, Davao-Cebu, Davao- Manila, Davao-Tagum, Davao- Palawan,” she said. These girls are made to work as GROs, night club dancers, or as women in a prostitution den. Most come from depressed barangays like Sasa and Leon Garcia, she added.
Mary is from Matina Aplaya. Of the 46 documented, two were rescued, but these two were cases of child labor, they were recruited to be domestic helpers. Talikala is an NGO that has been working with prostituted women since 1987. It also helped organize Lawig Bubay, the organization of prostituted women and survivors of prostitution in Davao City.
Mary, like many before her, are now members of Lawig Bubai where they are able to access services, including psycho-social support to help them redeem the dignity they lost.
Asked how Lawig Bubai helped her, Mary would only say, “Daghan. Nagpasalamat gani ko sa ilaha kay gitabangan nila akong pamilya. Basta daghan og tabang na akong nadawat nila (A lot. I am very thankful to them because they helped my family, I received a lot of help from them).”
Ampog said they provide support services to the family of trafficked children so that the children will no longer be vulnerable to traffickers. They also look for domestic employment for those of age so that they will not be easily enticed into being trafficked.
The rescued will also be able to undergo a re-integration program that includes psycho-social care, livelihood and formal education for minors.
Mary was out of school when she was recruited, she was supposed to be in sixth grade, but she did not make it.
She intends to go back to school through the alternative learning system (ALS) of the Department of Education.
Knowing that recruiters prey on children in the communities, community-based children’s organizations against trafficking has already been organized.
The children are trained to be peer counselors to spread the word on child’s rights, and most especially the hazards of trafficking.
Talikala has so far halped organize seven of these organizations in barangays Leon Garcia, Sasa, Matina Aplaya, Lapulapu, 5-A, 76-A, and Mintal.
Members need not be trafficked as this is more of a preventive rather than rehabilitative group.
Many members are in school and are able to discuss issues that confront them.
They have to contend with a growing number of out-of-school children who become more vulnerable to trafficking, then there are the child laborers, and those who belong to gangs.
“Naga-help ng vulnerable children. Kanang mga ginaabuso, para sa ilang awareness labaw na sa OSY kay medyo kulang sila og knowledge sa children’s rights, sa trafficking,” a representative of the Children Against Child Trafficking organization based in barangay Lapu-lapu.
She describes Lapu-lapu as a community where gangs proliferate.
“Prostitution, kawat, riot, rugby, OSY, naa pud child labor, pero ang uban mangawat lang (The issues facing us in our community are prostitution, robbery, riots, use of solvent, out-of-school children, there are also cases of child labor, but more are involved in theft and robberies),” she said.
Gangs even operate in schools, she said, where members are noted for being among the problem students whom teachers can hardly control.
“Ang mga nasa gang walay respeto sa maestro, gahi sila (Those who belong to gangs do not give respect to teachers, they are tough),” she added.
Gangs are made up of boys and girls although the boys get in trouble more often. The girls just prey on other girls whom they’d want to bully around.
“Trippingan nila, dumog-dumogon, or mag-recruit (The girls in the gang will just bully some other girls, and some they recruit),” she said.
Ampog said that members of the anti-child trafficking organizations are focused on trafficking in barangays in order to educate fellow children on what to watch out for. Three of the seven organizations are now members of the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children, and they look forward to have more.
The children organized by Talikala staged a Children’s Walk last Sunday, October 27, to cap the Children’s Month celebration and to cast attention on the problem of child trafficking, among those who joined were survivors of prostitution, all of them in their teens.