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  • With Falsified Passports, Pinay Minors From Mindanao Become Child Trafficking Victims

    Filipino girls as young as 14 are trafficked to Syria.
    by Johnna V. Giolagon .
With Falsified Passports, Pinay Minors From Mindanao Become Child Trafficking Victims
PHOTO BY Shutterstock/structuresxx
  • Lenlen was 14 years old when a recruiter visited her town in rural Cotabato and offered her a job in Dubai. Instead, she ended up in Syria in 2018.

    Lenlen only found out about her real destination when she was in Kuwait after a roundabout trip that took her to Kuala Lumpur and Colombo.

    “Pagdating po sa Damascus, kinuha po yung phone namin,” Lenlen said in a video testimony in a Senate hearing on Tuesday, May 4, 2021.

    Lenlen said her employer physically abused her during her stay. “Sinasampal po, pinapalo, kinukurot, tinatampal ng pinanglilinis naming - yung mop,” she recalled.

    Lenlen’s story is not unique.

    Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations, and Gender Equality, observed child traffickers seem to be targeting young Muslim girls from rural Mindanao.

    “Kung hindi natin malulutas ang problemang ito at kung hindi mapanagot ang mga kriminal, parang hinayaan na rin nating manakaw ang kinabukasan ng ating kabataan,” warned the senator.

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    The investigation focuses on child trafficking to Syria. Apart from Lenlen, two other girls — Omaima and Aleah — also shared their experiences. The three are all from rural Cotabato, so they couldn’t personally testify before the Senate.

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    Aleah was only able to cut loose from her employer of 11 years when war broke out, and the family she was serving fled. Omaima had six employers before the embassy finally rescued her.

    “Marami po akong kasama sa Embassy na menor de edad, may mga anak, may mga pamilya na naghihintay sa kanila,” Omaima recalled.

    Apart from the abuse, the three girls had something else in common — they were all issued passports from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) office in Cotabato City.

    The passports showed the girls were older than they actually are. The traditional veil that covers a Muslim woman’s head and face hid their young features.

    Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente agreed that the traditional veil covering the face — now also with the face mask due to the pandemic -- adds another layer to the difficulty of spotting victims of trafficking. He said the victims are coached on how to respond to Immigration officers’ questions.

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    In 2020, around 12,000 outbound Filipinos were barred from leaving due to the questionable circumstances of their travel. The number was significantly lower than the 38,522 cases of suspected human trafficking victims in 2019.

    COVID travel restrictions made it more difficult, but “the pandemic did not stop human trafficking,” said a press statement by the Bureau of Immigration in January.

    “If we find that this is syndicated trafficking, or trafficking committed by a group of three or more persons conspiring or confederating with each other, the prescription period is 20 years,” Sen. Hontiveros warned.

    “Kaya kung may mga matitinong opisyal pa ng gobyerno o kung sinumang indibidwal na may alam sa modus na ito, harapin niyo na kami bago pa man kayo sentensyahan ng pagkakulong.”

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