Inter-agency dialogue bares how pandemic became 'business opportunity' for traffickers

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 17 2020 07:38 PM

Inter-agency dialogue bares how pandemic became 'business opportunity' for traffickers 1
Many of the girls rescued from sex-trafficking organizations are taken to women's shelters similar to this one in Tacloban City. Many teenage girls rescued from sex-trafficking groups fall victim to unplanned pregnancies. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the vulnerability of victims of human trafficking, according to government and non-government agencies combatting modern-day slavery.

In the 6th Manila International Dialogue on Human Trafficking, stakeholders raised challenges posed by quarantine measures as human traffickers moved online to target their victims.

Among those present in the forum was the Department of Justice (DOJ).

"Children who are victims of online abuse, seafarers and fisherfolk, as well as the domestic workers and overseas Filipino workers, have all been seriously impacted by the ensuing pandemic," Justice Undersecretary Emelline Aglipay-Villar said.

The 6th Manila Dialogue by the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking, a body under the DOJ, was held Thursday in partnership with the Netherlands Embassy.

The technical working groups involved in the dialogue focused on the vulnerabilities of household service and tourist workers, children exploited online, as well as seafarers and fisherfolk.

Netherlands Ambassador to the Philippines Saskia de Lang noted that traffickers and criminals see the COVID-19 pandemic as a business opportunity.

Also raised during the dialogue were the higher demand for child sexual exploitation material during the lockdown; involuntary servitude of seafarers because of the delay in the deployment of their replacements; and illegal recruiters taking advantage of the economic need of the unemployed because of the pandemic.

Despite the challenges, government and non-government organizations vowed to intensify their efforts against human trafficking.

"More and more tech companies are joining the fight, developing tools and technology solutions to combat human trafficking. Indeed, the battleground has shifted. And while admittedly, the pace of human trafficking investigations in general has been dictated by traffickers and syndicates, the growing network of private sector engagement in this initiative is highly encouraging,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.

Guevarra noted that most government services have likewise shifted online, citing the first virtual promulgation of the conviction of "notorious American pedophile" David Timothy Deakin in Angeles City, Pampanga last May.

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