MARIANNE (not her real name) is only 18 years old, but she's already involved in the world’s oldest profession – prostitution, that is. She was only 15 when she lost her virginity to her boyfriend, who was two years older than her.

Her boyfriend left her when he found out that she was pregnant. To avoid embarrassment for her family, she also left her hometown and came to Davao City. She stayed with a 17-year-old friend, who worked as a guest relation officer in a sleazy bar.

After the baby was born, Marianne joined her friend. To provide her child milk and other needs, she also moonlighted as a sexy dancer in another bar. She also goes out with some of her customers. "I accepted this as my fate," she said.

Although there is no exact figure of how many prostitutes are there in Davao City, Jeanette Ampog estimated some 2,000 freelance prostitutes in Davao Region. The number of those engaged in the sex trade are increasing every year and getting younger, said the executive director of Talikala (Chain), a non-government organization dealing with prostituted women and children.

Prostitution, which is illegal and a serious criminal offense in the country, is available through brothels (also known as casa), bars, karaoke bars, massage parlors, and escort services. But in recent years, some young girls have become more creative in selling sex. They are using mobile phones for their clients to contact them.

"They no longer have to be out on streets or in the brothels, they now wait in their houses where they will just be texted," Ampog told a news conference convened by the Philippine Information Agency.

Text prostitutes, as they are called, are considered freelancers, which mean they are not registered and mostly rely on pimps.

Girls are not the only doing so. Even males can be “ordered” in such a manner. Brian, a second year college student, said he has a friend, who is a male hustler, who contacts him if his customer wants more than one.

"Usually, we meet in a bar and afterwards we go together to the hotel," he said, adding that he receives from P500 to P1,000 per sexual tryst.

Others use the social network, particularly Facebook, to entice customers. Nineteen-year-old Jefferson posts his photos where he wears skimpy outfits like briefs. "Some people would add me and later on ask me if I am available," he said. "If the price is right, I would go with him or her."

Actually, Jefferson is a college students and a fashion model. He has joined some bikini open contests so that if he would win, he can increase his price. “If those customers see me that I have win such contests, they are willing to pay for what I ask from them,” he says.

Davao City has been cited by the Child Protection Unit last year one of the top five areas for child prostitution and sex tourism. The reference was based on the reports from the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and Center for Women’s Resources. The other four were Angeles City (Pampanga), Puerto Galera (Mindoro), Cebu and Metro Manila.

"Child prostitution is relatively widespread in the Philippines, both as part of the general sex industry and other abuses of children’s rights," said the End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (Ecpat), a group created in 1990 with more than 200 affiliates in 25 countries. The Ecpat works on advocacy, education, and lobbying campaigns against child sex tourism and prostitution.

The child sex industry in the Philippines is patronized by tourists and locals,” the group said, adding that “prostituted children can be found in bars, brothers, tourist hotels, and along streets. Underage girls work in bars and brothels with false age certificates. Street children, both boys and girls, and child hawkers sell sex on the streets and beaches to tourists and locals.

Ecpat said there are 100,000 children engaged in sex trade in the country. “Sex has become a multi-billion dollar industry, and today children are being bought, sold, and traded like any other mass-produced good,” wrote Aaron Sachs in a report which appeared in Worldwatch.

Every year, more than one million children around the world are forced into the flesh market, the Unicef reports. "Street children are not necessarily prostitutes," clarified Alan Whaites of the World Vision International (WVI). "But it is an unfortunate reality that wherever they exist, some will feel compelled to enter the sex trade in order to survive."

A study conducted in the Philippines has shown that street children make up three percent of the children and youth in the urban centers. Some of them moonlight as sex workers during evenings or early mornings.

"The increase in child prostitution (in developing countries) is directly linked to the increase in tourism and sometimes caused by it directly," argued the Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism.

A few months ago, United States Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas in a controversial statement said that 40 percent of the male foreign tourists who come to the Philippines come for sex tourism. (He asked an apology later on for saying the statement.)

However, a study by the Women’s Education, Development, Productivity and Research Organization says while there are a "substantial proportion" of foreign customers due to sex tourism, "Filipinos are the main users of Filipinas forced into prostitution."

The causes of child prostitution are complex, according to Laura Montgomery, of the World Vision International. In industrialized countries like the United States, the major forces driving children into sex trade include family dysfunction, alcoholism and an ineffective or absent parent or parents.

In the Philippines, as in most developing countries, the root cause is poverty. A study conducted by International Labor Organization found that many Filipino child prostitutes were street workers from urban slums, who started out by selling cigarettes and other goods, or shining shoes.

They were eventually enticed into prostitution by leaders of sex rings or by other children engaged in the activity. "They became involved largely because prostitution pays well," the study concluded.

To some child prostitutes, there is no way out. Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in East Asia and Pacific, published by Unicef, explained: "Once in sex trade, it is difficult – if not impossible, to get out. Mentally scarred, the child prostitutes become street-wise, cynical, hardened and embittered. Sex becomes a commodity to be traded.

It also becomes their only means of financial support."

The 1998 survey of child prostitutes in the Philippines found that up to three quarters wanted to leave their work and more than half wanted to return to school. But six out of 10 thought this would depend on “having enough savings.”

Some non-governmental organizations in the country are trying to help those who are in the sex trade to leave and find other jobs. "Since prostitution is rooted on poverty, it needs a concerted effort from all groups of the society," Ampog was quoted as saying.