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Sunday, 16 December, 2001, 10:29 GMT
Radio helps sex industry victims
By BBC South-east Asia correspondent Simon Ingram
If delegates to this week's 2nd World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama, Japan (17-20 Dec), find themselves in search of inspiration, they could do worse than tune in to an unusual radio show broadcast weekly in the central Philippine island of Cebu.
Each Sunday, Tingog sa Kabataan (or Voice Of The Children) provides a forum for a group of youngsters, who have all themselves been victims of sexual abuse of one form or another.
The aim - to warn youngsters of the dangers of being lured into the commercial sex trade.
"Our show is meant as an inspiration," says 19-year old Juliette Auman, who has worked on the show for the past year.
"There are so many children out there who need help, only they don't know where to look."
Some of those children are to be found in the grimy back-streets of Cebu city, where pimps loiter in doorways, offering the sexual services of girls and boys to passers-by in return for a few dollars.
We met 16-year-old "Abigail", a typical recruit to a sex industry, estimated to employ 10,000 young girls in Cebu alone.
The story Abigail tells is a familiar one: she was persuaded to leave her impoverished home village on nearby Mindanao island and come to Cebu by a woman who promised her a job as a salesgirl.
Instead, she ended up in the grim red-light district of Kamagayan employed as a teenage prostitute.
Father Heinz Kulueke is a Catholic priest who has been involved for more than a decade in initiatives to beat the pimps and child-traffickers. Today he seems close to despair.
"What has become very obvious is a growing market for child prostitutes," says Father Heinz. Tourists - including many from Japan - make up a portion of the customers, but he says the local market is probably bigger.
"We have construction workers, we have students, we have sailors and we have businessmen."
With its many air and sea links to adjacent islands like Mindanao and Negros, social workers say Cebu has become a significant trans-shipment point for children being trafficked from the poorer southern Philippines to Manila and the north.
Father Heinz says changes in society are making it harder to fight the abuse of children.
"What used to be strictly forbidden in the local culture has become part of the local culture. It's beyond our control," he said.
This in spite of the fact that, in theory, Philippine children enjoy the protection of a powerful and progressive piece of legislation, known as Republic Act 76/10.
The law has claimed some successes in Cebu, such as the closure of a bar where under-age girls were used as dancers.
Yet the traffickers and pimps appear undeterred.
Parents involved in scandal
Pampio Abarintos - a judge who deals regularly with child abuse cases in Cebu district court - says that whatever legal measures are taken, poverty and lack of education will continue to drive young girls into the clutches of the traffickers.
"When there is a lot of unemployment and the place is poor, these crimes involving children will happen," says Judge Abarintos.
"Sometimes the parents are encouraging the children to do this (prostitution). Why? In order to obtain money."
But Ani Saguisag, a lawyer with the child protection group, ECPAT, identifies lax enforcement of RA 76/10 as a major reason why so few offenders end up behind bars.
"One example is that they (the police) think that you cannot arrest people for open pimping.
"They think that they can only file a case for vagrancy. And that's wrong because RA 76/10 actually penalises anybody who facilitates child prostitution.
And if somebody offers you a child, then that's already an act of child prostitution, and the law enforcement officials or the police don't really know about this."
The Philippines' endemic poverty, combined with the frailty of the legal system leave initiatives like the Voice Of The Children as a rare example of a success story in the campaign against the sexual exploitation of children.
"A few years back, you couldn't hear any of the children - usually it's a Philippine value to keep the children quiet," says the activist lawyer, Ani Saguisag.
"Now we're providing more venues for the children to speak up, and more people are listening. They might not like what they're hearing, but at least they're listening."
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