Child-traffickers active in insurgency-hit Mindanao: NGO

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Oct 28 2008 04:42 PM | Updated as of Oct 29 2008 12:42 AM

Human traffickers are preying on children displaced by the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao, an independent monitor said Tuesday.

The Visayan Forum Foundation, which monitors human trafficking in the Philippines, said groups trawl evacuation camps on Mindanao looking for child laborers to be flown abroad.

About 34 Filipino minors have been rescued by social workers from traffickers who smuggled them out of the conflict zones to work abroad, mostly in the Middle East, the group's president Cecilia Oebanda said.

She said her group recently saved a group of children aged between 14 and 16 at Manila airport who were on their way to the Middle East on fake passports.

"We were able to recover them," Oebanda told reporters at the UN-sponsored Global Forum on Migration and Development.

She warned that the trend would continue amid chaos in evacuation camps scattered across Mindanao.

"They were made to appear older in their passports," she said.

More than 600,000 people have been affected by intense fighting between troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since August, when a court stopped a deal that would have given the rebels control over an autonomous region.

The displaced are in several camps across Mindanao that are poorly managed, and where sanitation, water and food remain major concerns, the social welfare department said.

Most of the displaced come from agricultural communities that have been destroyed due to the clashes.

The Visayan forum said it is working closely with local governments and other aid workers to stop the problem. Officials and experts from more than 160 countries were attending the UN-sponsored meeting here.