As somebody who is extremely proud of her Filipino heritage, for me the reality of child sex tourism in the Philippines is hard to swallow.
The tropical country is a beautiful place, both in terms of its diverse natural environment of rolling mountains, underground caves and pristine white beaches, as well as its gracious, hard-working and joy-filled people, whose warm hospitality is difficult to top.
The US Ambassador to the Philippines, Harry Thomas Jr, unleashed a wave of controversy when he announced last September that 40 per cent of male tourists came to the Philippines for sex – the figure can't be officially proven, but certain NGOs stand by it as anecdotally correct.
It's a shocking figure, but not entirely surprising. As a journalist I've followed the issue of trafficking in Australia for some years and it's widely known that many women exploited in Australia and across the region are lured from desperate poverty, commonly from South East Asian nations.
Prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, but flourishes as an underground industry. A study by the University of the Philippines (cited by UNICEF, also cited in this report on International Child Sex Tourism on page 151) claims the industry is the country's fourth largest source of GNP and UNICEF ranks the Philippines fourth (behind Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia) among countries with the number of prostituted children.
The government has facilitated programs, domestic and international partnerships, as well as created new legislation over the past decade to stamp-out the problem, but implementation on the ground is difficult.
Corruption, conflict, poor infrastructure and lack of dedicated resources means NGOs carry the burden of fighting the trade as well as rescuing and rehabilitating victims.
It was these organisations that provided the invaluable insight I needed for my report on child prostitution in the Philippines. Below are extended interviews with some of those I met with.
Fr Shay Cullen is an Irish missionary priest who has been working in the Philippines for almost 40 years. He runs PREDA, a rescue and rehabilitation centre for prostituted children and was the one who first told me about the significant number of Australians who are engaging in child sex tourism in the country.
Cecilia Oebanda founded the Visayan Forum to fight trafficking around the Philippines. She explained how the Philippines' history of being subject to Western rulers for hundreds of years has created a culture which makes communities particularly vulnerable to trafficking.
While tourism is a crucial source of income for the country, it also leaves certain children and women vulnerable to being exploited. Josefina Alforque from ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) spoke to me about the need to work with and train local tourism agencies to identify and report potential cases, and ensure the human rights of locals are protected.
Child Alert works throughout Mindanao, a conflict-ridden region in the nation's south from which many children are trafficked into the trade. Project Coordinator Mario Castillo spoke to me about the challenges involved in sheltering and rehabilitating victims so they are not re-trafficked, and importance of educating rural and Indigenous communities.
Watch Katrina Yu's report on SBS Video on Demand
A more in-depth look at my trip can be found on my blog Diversity Diaries
Follow Katrina Yu on Twitter @Katmyu
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