Sunday, March 20, 2011
Human rights and tourism
Philippines. The case of a 14 year-old child, call her Angel, who was sold by her parents to an Australian tourist at Baloy Beach, Olongapo City, and made the child his live-in sex toy caused me to speak more forcibly than usual at the International Tourist Exhibition in Berlin (ITB) held last 9th to 13th March. As a member of a panel to discuss “Human Rights and Tourism,” the fact that thousands of children and youth are being sold as sex-slaves to foreign tourists, with the connivance of local authorities in the Philippines and elsewhere, gave a critical edge to my speech.
During the exhibition (the world’s biggest), I joined the press conference and with the international child rights organizations ECPAT and Tourism Watch, we called for justice for child victims in tourism and for governments, tourist associations and operators to put human rights before profits.
Sex-tourism is one of the worst aspects of the industry where violations of human rights occur. Millions of women and children are trafficked and sold into prostitution yearly around the world—an estimated 100,000 in the Philippines alone.
When children as young as 11 can be picked-up and sold to sex tourists on the streets of Angeles city (although the authorities deny it happens), we have to take a stand and speak out. The city and town mayors give the permits and licenses for the brothels and clubs to operate. It does great harm to the child victims, the community and the Filipino people. It is a cause of shame and embarrassment to Filipinos everywhere but not to the officials behind it. They make the big money.
As announced at the ITB, tourist associations and travel agencies have signed up to the tourism code of conduct (the code.org) and agreed to send their customers to countries that have clean tourism and child protection as a priority. Checking some of the travel agencies’ brochures offering holidays in Asia, I could not find a single one offering the Philippines as a destination.
That’s because the dirty side of Philippine tourism is showing. Street pimps, vendors, taxi drivers, waiters, hotel staff and even police are pimping minors to foreign tourists. Foreign guests in a Manila five-star hotel were offered young girls and they reported it. The Preda foundation offered to give free child protection seminars to the hotel management and staff but we were refused.
Next time the offers of sex in the hotel will be videotaped and posted on YouTube. Name and Shame is perhaps the only way to protect the children. Complaints made to the International Tourist Agencies who signed the Code of Conduct will result in the blacklisting of the offending resort or hotel. (Report abuse to firstname.lastname@example.org)
Angel was rescued from the sex-tourist and taken from Baloy beach to the Preda Children’s home for healing and protection. She was just finding her childhood again when the Australian’s defense lawyer persuaded the Olongapo judge to return her to the parents who pimped her. This, despite overwhelming medical evidence that she was continually abused by the suspect and in grave danger.
Every judge is supposed to act in the best interests of the child. The court’s decision has been sent to the Court Administrator at the Philippine Supreme Court for evaluation. Let the Senate investigate too. Now the child will be prevented from testifying against her abuser.
There are some people who believe that young Filipino girls, even underage, ought to be available for the sexual gratification of older Caucasian foreign men, especially if they are willing to pay large sums of money. How else can we explain the almost total absence of prosecutions and convictions of foreign child sex abusers in the Philippines? Even the conviction of traffickers of persons is so low that the Philippines is on the watch list of the US State Department for non-compliance with international standards. Unless there are just prosecutions and sound convictions, the anti-trafficking and child protection law appears to be a useless scrap of paper and the system looks like a game where everyone is making money. The Chief Justice ought to act and save the justice system. If not, there will be many more victims like little 14 year-old Angel unless there is serious reform. By Fr. Shay Cullen, Manila Times
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