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Drive vs illegal human trade strengthened

August 22, 2008 4:12am
MANLA, Philippines - An intensified campaign against human trafficking was launched early this week by a nongovernmental organization with the support of the United States embassy.

Human trafficking refers to the illegal trade of humans, mostly children and women, and forcing them to work either as sex slaves or child laborers.

With nearly 2.3 million forced into "modern slavery" annually, human trafficking has become the third largest illegal cross-border crime, behind drug trafficking and illegal arms trade.

The campaign launch was led by the Visayan Forum Foundation, Inc. (VFFI).

The Philippines is considered as a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking. According to the US State Department, the victims are brought to Cote d’ Ivoire, Japan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, among others. The victims number hundreds of thousands.

The Philippines has been put on the second tier of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report.

The classification meant the country is complying only with the minimum standards set by the US on the protection and prevention of human trafficking.

The minimum standard includes imposing punishment to deter trafficking and sustained efforts by the government to eliminate trafficking.

In response to improving the anti-human trafficking campaign record, the Philippines enacted into law Republic Act 9208 also known as the Anti-trafficking of Persons Act 2003. There has so far been 11 convictions on trafficking.

A further downgrade to the third tier will result in the loss of non-humanitarian, non-trade assistance from the US such as development programs and educational exchange programs.

"Human trafficking is a global problem," US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie A. Kenney said at the launch. "It is modern-day slavery and victims rarely have a voice."

Cecil Flores-Oebanda, VFFI president and executive director, noted a "massive exploitation of safe migration."

The VFFI works with other sectors to provide halfway houses for trafficking victims. The Philippine Ports Authority is building halfway houses in ports where rescued victims are hosted until they can fully reintegrate into society.

According to the International Labor Office, victims often cope with reintegration problems since their families expected them to provide money.

In the same event, Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking said that the campaign against human trafficking had no budget.

Despite the predicament, Ombudsman Merceditas N. Gutierrez vowed that the Office of the Ombudsman would continue to probe and prosecute any public officials found guilty of colluding with traffickers.

"There is no reason why we cannot win the war against trafficking in this lifetime," said Mr. Blancaflor. - BusinessWorld