TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – A female police officer who intercepted four people suspected of trafficking five girls from an area affected by Typhoon Haiyan attributes her alertness to the training on human trafficking she received from UNFPA.
“I don’t think I would have been that prepared in dealing with the situation if I hadn’t done the training,” said the police officer, who asked not to be identified because of her role in the ongoing investigation.
The five girls, aged between 10 and 15, were intercepted last April onboard a bus in the western city of Abucay, bound for Manila. They were travelling with four adults claiming to be members of a non-governmental organization helping survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.
The female officer, who was accompanied by a social welfare officer from the Tacloban City Social Welfare and Development Office, asked the girls where they were going.
The girls said they were on their way to Manila but could not give any further information. This prompted the police officer and social worker to bring in the girls and their adult companions for further questioning at the police station.
Lured under false pretenses
The four adults – including a woman dressed in a nun’s habit – reportedly arrived in the Tacloban City area on 9 April to distribute relief supplies in a district of the Marabut municipality, where they met the girls.
“They promised the girls free high school and college scholarships in Metro Manila, as well as job opportunities abroad after their education,” explained Carmela Bastes, the social welfare officer involved in the case.
Although the group showed consent forms, signed by the children’s parents, permitting them to take the girls to Manila, Ms. Bastes and the police officer explained that these documents were irrelevant because the girls are minors.
“There should have been coordination from the barangay [local district] level,” said Ms. Bastes. “A social worker in Marabut should have a referral and a case study before allowing anyone to transport children to another city. They didn’t have any of these documents.”
The training that made the difference
UNFPA has been working with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Philippine National Police in its campaign to prevent human trafficking and gender-based violence in areas affected by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever recorded.
To date, at least 38 female police officers in Haiyan-affected areas have been trained in the prevention and management of gender-based violence and human trafficking cases.
According to Ms. Bastes, who is following up on the case and continues to assist the young women, three of the girls have returned to their families in the city of Marabut. The other two are still in the care of the Tacloban Women’s Shelter due to the "unsafe environment in their homes." They are currently attending the national high school in Tacloban City.
The suspects are currently detained at the Tacloban City jail while they are being investigated for the alleged human trafficking. They have filed an appeal.