Women, children in conflict areas prone to trafficking

Carlos Isagani T. Zarate said the vulnerability of women and children in conflict areas, especially those displaced, exposes them to the dangers of trafficking.

Zarate, among 10 lawyers who volunteered to defend anti-trafficking cases in a forum here, cited the situation in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

He pointed out that the region is also source of most victims of illegal recruitment.

He said women and children in the region, many of them unschooled and poor, become victims of violence and displacement.

Zarate said there is a correlation of economic and peace and order problems where trafficking cases come from. He said conflicts make communities poor and the populace vulnerable.

He said the ARMM is source of victims of trafficking because it has experienced wars and massive poverty. But the lawyer could not cite any statistics. He said he based it on the premise that conflict and poor areas are easy targets of traffickers.

He said poverty does not really make people easy preys. “But when the poor are displaced, they are exposed to its (trafficking's) dangers,” he added.

Zarate has pushed for more public understanding on the issue of trafficking. He said it is not a separate problem from what is happening in communities.

He stressed that with more understanding from the public, the members of the judiciary and the law enforcers, cases against traffickers could be pursued.

Child Alert Mindanao, a non-government organization that is part of the inter-agency council, cited only seven convictions on trafficking due to various problems. Among those cited is the poverty of the victims in surviving the demands of going to court.

Another problem cited in the forum was the need to educate more the law enforcers in keeping evidence admissible in court.

Zarate said since the law is relatively new, the Philippine jurisprudence on covered cases is still poor.

Possible confusion between Republic 9208 (Anti Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003) and other laws on violence against women and children and other laws was also pointed out.

Davao City Councilor Angela Librado-Trinidad, a lawyer, said the public understanding on the difference between illegal recruitment and trafficking in person is still vague. Librado is the vice-chairperson of the Davao City Inter-agency Council Against Trafficking.

She also cited that in some cases, those convicted were not the real culprits of the crime and were victims themselves.

Patricia Ruivivar, the chief of staff of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, cited that the network used by these traffickers is also the one used by drug traffickers, as presented by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency to the city council in October.

A mother from Tacurong City shared to the forum her ordeal when her 14-year-old daughter was trafficked in 2004. She said she found her in a club working as a dancer and was made to smoke marijuana before her number.

Anti-trafficking advocates proposed wider and sustainable efforts from local governments, civil society organizations, private sector and the public amid slow movement of cases against traffickers, three years after the country's Anti-Trafficking in Person's Act was implemented in 2003.

The council has pushed for more concerted efforts to expose trafficking.

Bernardo Mondragon, executive director of Child Alert Mindanao, said the problem is that most of those who push children to trafficking are family members and relatives of the victims. He also cited persons in authority, like town officials, as among those reported as suspected traffickers. (Walter I. Balane / MindaNews)