Immediately after the typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), the strongest typhoon ever to hit land on 8 November this year, I wrote an article titled “The Lost Orphans of Yolanda” on 12 November in the knowledge that the children without parents are the most vulnerable to abuse, abduction, malnutrition and human trafficking. Hungry children go wandering off in search of food their parents cannot provide and you see them at city street corners begging and asking strangers for money.
That article on the orphans was based on the initial report that as many as ten thousand people had been killed by the storm surge and high winds and flying debris. The confirmed death toll has reached 6,500 dead and more bodies are uncovered as the debris is gradually removed. It was expected that there would be many homeless, hungry and orphaned children. They tend to be overlooked in the chaos that follows a great storm or disaster.
It was published in several newspapers and online and flew around the world via the internet and seemingly had its desired effect to alert the agencies, government and non-government agencies helping children in the disaster area of Yolanda to be on the lookout for homeless and abandoned orphaned children. Preda Foundation cares for almost 90 children in residential care and fifty in after care and did not have the resources for an immediate relief response until donations began arriving. Then we immediately set off to the disaster areas to assess the damage and the needs of children and learn how best we could help.
The article seemed to ignite a flurry of concern and press releases and stories about the dangers these vulnerable children faced. This may have had a preventive educational impact, I hope so. According to the DSWD Regional Director Bonoan, no orphaned children have been found, and none came into her Manila based evacuation centers. Preda social workers worked there and did not find any orphans there either. However, there are three posters appealing for information about missing children, one as young as 3 years old. Likewise in the Cebu evacuation center which we also visited, none were found according to the officer in charge. In Tacloban, reportedly there were none either, other than one family of five taken by the Council for Inter-county Adoption to an orphanage in Quezon City.
However, with 6500 people dead, it’s highly unusual that no children have been found homeless and orphaned. Perhaps relatives have taken them into their care already as informal fostering and undocumented adoption is customary. Perhaps, the fact that local government is so overwhelmed with so many other problems, they cannot cope or even know if there are orphaned children being sheltered by other families. The greatest concern is the vulnerability of boys and girls to local pimps and recruiters and foreign paedophiles disguised as government officials or charity workers.
Kandy is a 15 year-old victim of human trafficking from Samar. Before the typhoon, her parents fled the poverty and brought her and her sister, 20 years old, to Metro Manila but left them with an auntie and returned to Samar. Her sister Karina was lured to Limay, Bataan, a port, and she was ensnared in a videoke sex bar. The recruiter trafficker then texted Kandy inviting her to come and work in a bakery, she was given advance money and then to pay it off, she was forced to work in another sex videoke bar at Pexsite. Intimidated and scared, she went and was offered as a live-partner to a Korean. She ran away from this sex-slavery but because of debts, she had to go back to another videoke bar. A concerned citizen texted Preda’s hot line and within two days, Preda social workers and legal officer rescued her. She is finding a new life of dignity now at Preda home for trafficked girls. The Preda legal officer filed the criminal charges. The trafficker was arrested and is facing arraignment in Balanga, Bataan, Regional Trial Court.
Many people may know of abducted or recruited children or see trafficking or abuse happening but are afraid to report it or have no one to trust to whom they can safely and anonymously report it and get immediate action. What Preda Foundation does best is immediate response and through its highly trained personnel, it can do undercover surveillance and research on the one hand, and give public community training to develop awareness and trust in communities and empower women and children to report human trafficking and abuse of any kind through texting to the hotline mobile number +63 917 532 4453. The one utility back on in most disaster hit areas is the mobile phone systems.
Besides giving relief foods and seeds to farmers, we need to give this public education and empowerment training seminars to parents and youth on the dangers of falling for the offers of traffickers and spread the message through radio, seminars and puppet shows and distribute information cards with the contact information and hotline number.
This way, the people knowing about trafficked children or adults can report it without fear of retaliation or threats. It’s important to involve the local officials and train and hire local youth to take on the preventive educators’ job and continue the empowerment and information project. The feedback to the Preda coordinator of any trafficking or child abuse will be met with an immediate response. The hotline number for reporting trafficking or child abuse of any kind is +63 917 532 4453. We can make this a better world for children at risk.
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