Young leaders in Cebu province signed a covenant on Friday to help reduce and prevent human trafficking in their cities and towns.
"We will continue to be your strong ally in this fight," said United States Ambassador Harry Thomas Jr., who joined the youth at the Cebu International Convention Center.
At least 1,000 boys and girls attended the covenant-signing by the Panlalawigang Pederasyon ng mga Sangguniang Kabataan (PPSK) and Movement of Anti-Trafficking Advocates (Mata).
"Children are not items to be sold, they are not for sale. Do not tarnish their image. Please uphold their dignity and innocence," said Aladdin Caminero, PPSK president and youth representative to the Cebu Provincial Board.
"It is very distressing to note that several raids conducted have led to the arrest and prosecution of relatives and neighbours of the victims themselves," Caminero said in his speech.
A similar observation was raised in the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2011.
"Traffickers, in partnership with organized crime syndicates and complicit law enforcement officers, regularly operate through local recruiters sent to villages and urban neighbourhoods to recruit family and friends, often masquerading as representatives of government-registered employment agencies," the report said.
Although the Philippines has made significant efforts to reduce the human trafficking in the country more effort was needed to protect Filipinos from "forced labor, debt bondage, and commercial sexual exploitation."
Although the Philippines is seen as a source country rather than destination for human trafficking Cebu,Angeles and Metro Manila had been named as black spots for trafficking.
"Now we are all here to celebrate this event, but when I look at these young boys and girls, I cannot celebrate, I cannot be happy, because I know that there are young boys and girls your age, this very moment in this province and in my home country, who are being trafficked. That is nothing to celebrate," the ambassador said.
"We know who these traffickers are. We must give them no aid. We must prosecute them. We must send them to jail," he added.
During a press briefing the Visayan Forum Foundation said that “the victims of human trafficking are usually 18-24 years old. An estimated 95 percent of them suffered physical or sexual violence as a result of trafficking.
Senior Superintendent Louie Oppus, the PNP Central Visayas office deputy director for administration, said in a recent report to the Regional Peace and Order Council that child exploitation and pornography are among the modern crimes being committed with computers.
Other crimes in this category include identity theft, fraud, narcotics trafficking, credit card fraud, theft of trade secrets, stalking and counterfeiting.
Criminals move into trafficking due to its low risk and high yields often in many countries they hold lesser jail sentences than drug or other armed robbery crimes. The biggest problem the Philippines faces is although it doesn’t like to admit it the crimes are more localised than international. Catching people at source in the Philippines with stiff jail sentences will help reduce the risk of people being trafficked abroad. At the same time they need to clean up the Filipino’s involved in the activity just as much as foreigners. Releasing or giving lower sentences as some are seen as “victims” just puts them back on the street to recruit more people. They need to get the same severe jailing that the main criminals receive to bring an end to this curse on the nation.