'Sex traffickers using Facebook to spot targets'

By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Oct 01 2010 02:02 AM | Updated as of Oct 01 2010 10:02 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is ranked 4th in the world in number of child prostitutes with over 100,000, and many of them are also victims of sex trafficking, an advocacy group said Thursday.

Dr. Cyndi Romine, president of Compassion To One Philippines (www.compassion2one.org), said the country has become a primary source of sexually trafficked children behind nations such as India, Thailand and Cambodia. Worldwide, she said an average of 1.2 million children are sexually trafficked every year.

"I didn't understand the problem was this big when I started, 100,000 children a year. They are being flown out, they are being shipped out. Borneo is so close, Malaysia's so close. It's a huge money-making situation," she told ANC's "Headstart" anchor Karen Davila.

She said places where children are most likely to be trafficked are Metro Manila, Cebu, Cotabato and Davao.

"Cebu has a horrible problem, Cotabato, Davao...Of course, any place that has a port where they can just take them out. It's so easy when you just put them on a boat. No papers, nothing," she said.

Romine said traffickers usually approach parents of impoverished families and entice them with money, fame or even a better life just to let the kids go with them.

She also noted that 50% of all pimps are women, which makes profiling of traffickers even harder. "A well-dressed Filipina will come to you and say, 'We'll make your child a star.' This is poverty driven. These are minors, little tiny ones," she said.

Once the child goes with the trafficker, Romine said the child could end up in a number of countries such as the Arab states, Japan, Thailand and Cambodia. She said that in some places, an "exotic" child prostitute who is still a virgin could be "sold" for up to $10,000.

Facebook as source?

Romine said the problem of sex trafficking has become bigger because drug syndicates are now going into forced prostitution. She noted that drugs can be sold only once but a prostitute can be "sold" again and again every day.

She said prevention of sex trafficking should start at the barangay level and should be complemented by tighter immigration control.

"It really boils down a lot to immigration because of airports and ports. It also falls on barangay officials and local government. Why are they not stopping people they don't know and asking them 'Who are you? You are not taking our babies,'" she said.

She added: "I think we need to get a passion, a fire burning. Let them be mad at this situation and say, 'You are not taking our children. You are not taking our kids.'"

Romine said parents who are approached by suspected traffickers should also know how to discern if the person approaching them is a trafficker.

"They can say they want to marry you, give your kids an education, make your kids a star. They will promise you the world. Check out the agent. How long have you been in business? Check out the POEA [Philippine Overseas Employment Administration] if the business is legitimate," she said.

She also advised parents to monitor their children's online activities since many traffickers are now scouring social media sites such as Facebook to check out potential victims. She said some kids routinely post pictures of themselves while in school uniform, not knowing that they could be targeted by traffickers.

Liam Neeson movie based on true story

Romine also revealed that the hit movie "Taken" starring Hollywood actor Liam Neeson is actually based on a true story. The movie, based on a script by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, portrayed Neeson as a retired special ops agent who rescues his daughter from Albanian slave traders in Europe.

Romine said the story of retired US Army Special Forces Colonel William Hillar is actually similar to the one in the movie.

Hillar's daughter was kidnapped along with two friends while taking a train out of Bangkok. Within 24 hours, the girls were already in Kuala Lumpur and forced to become sex slaves.

After finding out about the kidnapping, Hillar took his friends and tracked his daughter for the next 6 months. The search took him to Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Macau, the Philippines and finally in a warehouse in Borneo with 32 girls inside.

"He goes in and finds one of the friends and asks: 'Where's my baby?' She said: 'Oh sir, a week ago she escaped and found a policeman and he brought her back here. She was tortured to death as an example to the other girls.' He got there a week late," Romine recounted.

Romine describes Hillar as a big, tall, muscular guy who is still suffering from guilt about the fate of his daughter.

"He suffers from guilt. Why couldn't I be there? Why couldn't I protect her? That's why I feel bad for the parents in the Philippines who think they are giving their child something wonderful. They're letting their child go into the worse possible scenario. The average age of a prostitute worldwide is 14 years old, and they service men and women 40 times a day," she said.