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Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations

Presentation
By

 

 

 

 

Department of Social Welfare and Development
Undersecretary for Policies and Programs

Ms. Alicia R. Bala

 

 

Gender-Sensitive Approaches to Anti-Trafficking Efforts: The Philippine Experience

 

Your Excellencies, Esteemed Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.

Trafficking in human beings has been condemned as one of the most disturbing and persistent transnational crimes of the 21 st century. Most countries in the world experience some form of trafficking of persons as origin, transit point and/or destination of trafficking syndicates. Since the passage of the UN Optional Protocol on Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, governments have passed national laws and initiated collaborative and coordinated action plans to deal with trafficking in persons. We now have an array of legal instruments, mechanisms, and resources that have begun to effectively address trafficking. Yet all these initiatives admittedly are still inadequate and much more work has to be done to prevent trafficking and protect the victims. This conference reminds us that we need to constantly highlight the issue, share, and build on our positive experiences to reduce the incidence of trafficking.

The Philippine Situation

In my country, trafficking of persons is the third most prevalent transnational crime, next only to drug trafficking and terrorism. The Philippine archipelago’s vast coastline, a rich marine resource to communities, also provides numerous entry and exit points for human trafficking. As a result, the Philippines has reportedly been a destination and transit point for trafficked women from various Asian countries. Trafficking within the country remains a persistent problem in the provinces where rural poverty has driven families to send their daughters to work as domestic helpers either in the cities or abroad. Such poverty-driven migration accentuates the vulnerabilities of young women who, in many instances, are preyed upon by traffickers. The limited livelihood opportunities and inequitable distribution of income, combined with the desire to provide better lives for their families force millions of Filipinos to seek better paying jobs in cities and overseas. In 2005 alone, 1.2 million Filipinos went abroad in search of better job opportunities, 72% were female new hires that mostly ended up as low-paid unskilled workers. This figure includes the undocumented women workers victimized by illegal recruiters, who were possibly trafficked abroad for prostitution, domestic work, and as mail order brides. Government records indicate that of 1,449 victims served in its centers and institutions from 2003 to September 2006, 81% were women and 66% were children, particularly girl children. Natural and man-made disasters left some people with no options but to migrate and find work wherever they can, some of whom became victims of trafficking.

The Philippine Response

The Philippines’ anti-trafficking strategies are grounded not just on the Philippine context, but also on our regional and international commitments with the ASEAN and the UN respectively. In line with these commitments, the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003was enacted which defines domestic as well as international acts of trafficking in persons, acts that promote trafficking in persons, and qualified trafficking in persons as criminal offenses. The law, which is gender-neutral, mandates the decriminalization of victims as well as the provision of protection and support services. Since the law’s enactment in 2003, modest successes have been achieved. This is partly attributed to integrated and synergized efforts of the Interagency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), which is composed of various government agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), and law enforcers. One of its landmark achievements was the successful conviction of seven (7) traffickers in 2006.

The Philippines’ six-year National Strategic Action Plan Against Trafficking in Persons focuses on four components: (1) prevention, (2) protection, (3) rehabilitation, and (4) reintegration of victims.

The synergized efforts of IACAT’s member agencies and the increased involvement of local communities aim to enhance anti-trafficking advocacy and intervention machineries.

Prevention

An active public awareness and education campaign on the Anti-Trafficking Act and other related laws such as the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act (RA 9262); the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act (RA 7610); Act Prohibiting the Employment of Children Under 15 Years Old (RA 7658); and Act on Intercountry Adoption (RA 8043) are regularly conducted by governments and the NGOs through popular forms of education and through the trimedia targeting of both the potential victims as well as perpetrators. Intensification of cooperation with international immigration and law enforcement authorities towards the protection of the integrity of passports and working documents of migrant workers as well as the verification of overseas employment contracts are currently underway. To further reinforce the implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Law, Executive Order 325 creating a Presidential Anti-Illegal Recruitment Task Force to handle cases of illegal recruitment was also activated. Local ordinances against trafficking at the local level were likewise enacted. Women and children help desks were installed in city and municipal police stations. Local councils on anti-trafficking and violence against women and children were also organized.

An innovative program focusing on the issue of demand was initiated by the Coalition Against Trafficking Women-Asia Pacific (CATW-AP), which conducted a series of workshops on trafficking and prostitution issues to educate young men and youth leaders to play an active role in reducing demand. These “Young Men’s Camps” have produced effective male advocates against prostitution and trafficking of women and children.

Aspiring migrant workers were given pre-employment and pre-departure orientation seminars informing them of trafficking threats, related laws, and contact numbers of agencies that can help them abroad. Pre-marriage counseling was also given to prospective spouses/partners of foreign nationals. Travel clearance to minors traveling outside the country unaccompanied by parents is another measure to prevent trafficking of children.

Lastly, efforts to intercept operations of suspected syndicates include special multi-sectoral anti-trafficking task forces guarding airports, land, and water transit points. Halfway houses managed by the NGO Visayan Forum, which served as temporary refuge center or haven for rescued women and children, were set up in ports and at the International Airport. A forensic document examination laboratory was also installed in the International Airport to detect fraudulent travel papers.

Rehabilitation/Protection

Because of the increasing number of overseas Filipino workers, social workers were deployed abroad as part of the diplomatic mission, particularly in countries where there is a large concentration of Filipinos, to provide psychosocial interventions and other support services. The Filipino Workers Resource Centers were also established to provide counseling, legal assistance, and welfare support. Efforts to repatriate trafficked victims were also made with the host countries and support from local and international NGOs.

At the national level, rescued victims are either provided services in residential facilities or at the community level. Rehabilitative and protective services include psychosocial services, access to legal and health services, educational support, skills training, and livelihood.

Manuals and guidelines on Investigation, Prosecution, Recovery, and Reintegration of Victims-Survivors of Trafficking were developed. Social workers, law enforcers, and other service providers undergo trainings, which include discussions of gender-related issues as well as children’s rights, to enhance their capacities to assist survivors of trafficking. Guidelines on the Protection of Children Victims of Trafficking is now being crafted, jointly undertaken by government and non-government organizations.

Partnerships with international donor organizations were also strengthened to implement anti-trafficking programs. These programs enable communities to provide comprehensive treatment for trafficked victims and enable the poor, particularly women and children, to pursue justice by improving their knowledge of the judicial system and their basic rights. Furthermore, these programs train service providers to become gender-sensitive and help the government come up with gender-responsive as well as child-friendly interventions.

Reintegration

Efforts to help victims do not stop at providing rehabilitative and protective services. Survivors of trafficking also undergo skills development trainings on livelihood and social communication, as well as other services such as provision of educational assistance, transportation assistance, and after-care services. Employment and livelihood programs were also generated to facilitate their reintegration in communities. Moreover, partnerships with international organizations were strengthened to address the needs of repatriated trafficking victims by facilitating their reintegration in communities through training and provision of psychosocial intervention, among others. In line with these efforts, a database and

referral system on reintegration monitoring/trafficking of cases is currently being developed in collaboration with partner agencies in the country and abroad.

Next Steps and Remaining Challenges

Concerted efforts of IACAT resulted in significant gains on the conviction of traffickers, widespread awareness of anti-trafficking laws, enhanced capacities of service providers, creation of local interagency councils, standardized procedures on investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases, and the reintegration of trafficked persons. However, there are several areas that need improvement.

An updated, gender-responsive, and child-friendly national database must be developed to identify effective services for trafficked victims and their families. Immediate reporting of trafficking cases to authorities must be facilitated. Competencies of service providers should be enhanced by firming-up trainings with sustainability features. Good practices and research agenda have to be identified, including an evaluation of the impact of anti-trafficking programs. Localization of policies to increase the awareness of communities on anti-trafficking guidelines and issues should be improved. Special attention must be given to raise the awareness of girls, especially those in Indigenous People’s (IP) communities, of their rights. Lastly, integration of anti-trafficking information in elementary and high school curricula is needed to enhance the knowledge of children and the youth on trafficking.

The Philippine experience shows us that trafficking is predominantly a crime against women and children. It also tells us that poverty and the adverse effects of globalization hinder the full fruition of intervention strategies and threaten to exacerbate trafficking. But strengthening our partnerships with civil society as well as the international community in creating comprehensive intervention and prevention programs give us hope that achievements on anti-trafficking and upholding the rights of women and children will increase significantly in succeeding years. Trafficking is a transnational problem that requires strong national and international cooperation. As such, we assure you that as your partner in social development, the Philippines will continue its efforts against anti-trafficking and upholding the rights of women and children.

Thank you.

 

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