Authorities detain two men suspected of trafficking 16-year-old girl in typhoon-hit Philippines

by Alisa Tang | @alisatang | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 28 November 2013 14:15 GMT

Filipino children stand along the main eastern Samar coast road with signs to make passing aid trucks stop in the village of Mercedes near the coastal town of Guiuan. Photo November 20, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

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Social welfare authorities detain suspects trying to catch flight from Tacloban to Manila with an unrelated 16-year-old, raising concern about risk of child trafficking in chaotic aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Philippine social welfare authorities earlier this week detained two men trying to fly out of typhoon-devastated Tacloban city with an unrelated 16-year-old girl, a U.N. spokeswoman said, raising concerns about the trafficking of minors in the chaotic aftermath of the disaster.

U.N. refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan said the incident - the first such detected by authorities since Typhoon Haiyan hammered the central Philippines on Nov. 8 - was not a clear-cut case of trafficking.

A Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) official at the Tacloban airport Migration Outflow Desk on Monday spotted “a 16-year-old girl travelling with two adult men she did not seem to be related to,” Tan said.

DWSD officials, registering displaced people travelling to Manila, saw that the girl’s family name differed from those of her companions on the forms they filled in.

“When the names of the trio didn't match, DSWD brought the girl aside for further questions. She admitted she did not really know the men, who offered to take her to her parents in Manila,” Tan wrote by email late Wednesday night from Tacloban. “But from what I hear, her story has been quite inconsistent so the authorities don't have the full picture yet.”

Tan, who confirmed the details with the DSWD official on Thursday morning, said the girl was in the DSWD's care, and police were investigating the case. It was not clear if the men were still in detention, Tan said.

GREATER RISK AFTER DISASTERS

Child protection agencies commonly warn that after disasters or during emergencies, children are at elevated risk of trafficking, exploitation and abuse, especially if they have lost their parents.

After fighting between government forces and separatists displaced more than 100,000 in the southern Philippines, a 6-year-old girl was raped in September at an overcrowded evacuation centre in Zamboanga - a city known to be a human trafficking route.

“After disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami that affected Indonesia and Sri Lanka, many children who had lost or been separated from their families were trafficked and forced to work, provide sexual services or beg on the streets,” Emily Pasnak-Lapchick, a fellow with the End Trafficking project at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, wrote on the agency’s website.

“It is estimated that thousands of children were trafficked in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. With a large youth population spread over more than 7,000 islands, the situation in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan has the potential to be even worse.”

Typhoon Haiyan killed more than 5,500 people and displaced 4 million, of whom UNICEF estimates 1.8 million are children.

Guidelines to ensure children do not become victims of trafficking include the following:

  • Conduct a rapid assessment of the situation of children.
  • Prevent the separation of children from caregivers and facilitate the identification, registration and medical screening of separated children, particularly those under five years of age and adolescent girls.
  • Ensure that family-tracing systems are implemented.
  • Provide interim care for separated children until they are reunited with their families, placed in foster care, or other long-term care arrangements have been made.
  • Ensure that children who are travelling during emergencies are with their parents or other primary caregivers. The government can put a temporary moratorium on the adoption of children until all children can be properly identified and the process of family tracing is completed.

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