Church is challenged to end trafficking, child abuse

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

August 9, 2022

By Father Shay Cullen

Saving victims and bringing traffickers to justice is Christian faith in action

Christian leaders, bishops, priests and laypeople should be outraged at the extent of human trafficking and child abuse in families and online and be motivated by faith to take every opportunity to help the victims by good deeds and action for justice as well as denounce the evil on the internet that is pervading society.

A worthwhile prayer is that which motivates people to act for justice. Where are the organized militant “Catholic internet trolls for human rights and child protection?” None that I know of. We need the revival of Catholic Social Action groups in every parish, led by dedicated internet-savvy students and youth fighting every day for social justice.

While on the streets outside the parishioners should be having their weekly march for child rights, justice for the exploited and oppressed before celebrating the Eucharist. Because that is what the Mass is, among other things — a celebration of Faith, that good will overcomes evil.

It is a meal of solidarity and friendship with Jesus of Nazareth and for the community to be bound together in a commitment to living out the Gospel values of Jesus. They commit to fighting together and doing the good and the true and denouncing evil.

That is our baptismal vow. Christian Faith is acting on the belief that doing good and taking action for truth and justice will overcome evil in society. Without that action, faith is dead, as Saint James said. Without that commitment to act on our baptismal vows to reject evil and do good there is little purpose to church-going besides attending rituals and rites. There is no magic in church.

Action saving victims and bringing traffickers to justice is faith in action. Sisters Gabriela and Roxanne y Marfuri Martinez from Subic, Zambales are now convicted human traffickers. They will each serve three life sentences in prison deprived of family, home, children, comfort and productive life.

They are intelligent, they knew right from wrong, and they chose to do evil, to lure, groom and train five young teenage girls and 14 young women over 18 to be sex workers. They made them believe that by selling themselves to sex tourists they would have an exciting well-paid life.

In a 36-page decision, Judge Gemma Theresa B. Hilario-Logronio of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court found the two sisters guilty of the crime of qualified trafficking and child sexual abuse. The judge said in her decision that the accused “maliciously took advantage of their minority, innocence and vulnerability by injecting into their young minds the desire for material luxurious things in exchange for their dignity not only as a woman but as a human being.”

The minors must get due justice she said, and they did. After being rescued by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and recovering for several months in the Preda Foundation home for trafficked and abused children they were empowered and realized they had been exploited and cheated and they decided to testify against the traffickers.

They explained what happened clearly and truthfully and convinced the judge. The minors are now reintegrated into their supportive families and studying with help of the aftercare program of the Preda Foundation.

The Martinez sisters trafficked and abused the minors and others for money, believing that selling young people for sex as millions do is okay because it is common practice in the Philippines and elsewhere, although illegal.

Only children’s rights defenders and protectors protest and campaign against it. This nation has strict laws against child abuse and trafficking with flexible interpretation by the populace and weak or sometimes no implementation by the authorities.

Some local governments issue licenses and permits to operators of sex bars, resorts and hotels for lucrative private payments of fees and perhaps a share of the profits. Police and officials frequent these places and indulge in sexual activities. It is just business to them.

The victims of trafficking were rescued by the Manila anti-trafficking unit of the NBI and social workers in cooperation with the Preda Foundation. The Martinez sisters were arrested and now convicted. Their young victims suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

Much of the modern world has lost its respect for human rights and the rights of the child in recent years. One in every three or four children has experienced sexual abuse and many suffer trauma.

These victims of trafficking and sex abuse are the children of neglect, boys and girls as young as 12, the throwaway children of broken homes. Abused and raped at home, they run away to the streets. They have no trust in the government, no assistance other than being jailed in the Bahay Pagasa. They are quickly recruited by human traffickers and pimps. They are the abused abandoned children of society.

A research project by the Center for Women’s Resources discovered that a woman or child is sexually abused every five minutes in the Philippines. As if this is a national pastime and the abuse is seldom reported.

When the crime is reported it is not always noted in the police blotter or acted upon as police manipulate the statistics to show a low crime rate and success by doing nothing.

Human trafficking, child sexual abuse and online sexual abuse of children are spreading at an unprecedented rate across the Philippines. It is the hub of child abuse online as Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and other social media platforms through the internet service providers (ISPs) and others sexualize social media and allow the promotion of child sexual abuse. The ISPs deny responsibility.

It is promoted and spread through the internet by Philippine ISPs backed by international finance. They are beyond government control and law enforcement can hardly monitor the trafficking of child abuse material.

Images of child rape show up on cell phones and devices day and night. In one egregious case of many, three 10-year-old boys have child abuse images on a mobile phone and they go and rape a six-year-old girl.

There is no blocking software deployed by the ISPs. A new law, the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children (Anti-OSAEC), will help control their abusive activities. Human trafficking and the online sexual abuse of ever younger children is the worst evil in the Philippines and it is a shame and disgrace to the “Christian” Filipino people who do little to stop it and ignore child sexual abuse.

The few brave Church leaders who speak out and take risks for the Gospel and have true faith in protecting the rights of children and victims of human rights violations are true Christians of inspiration but we need many more of them.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.