“She listened to the silence. Her first thought was relief. He’s gone. Her second thought was utter devastation. He didn’t kill me.” ― Catherine Brusk, What Love Washed Up

Have you ever been stuck in an elevator for a few minutes? You must have experienced a feeling of helplessness, panic and fear. Imagine feeling like that every minute of every day. 

This is probably what it feels like to be a slave. To not have any rights or dignity. To be at the mercy of the captor. Why do we humans think it’s ok to keep other humans captive? Why is it ok to profit off of it? Whether it was humans to work in cotton fields, to clean the house, or women to work in the sex trade, how do we justify robbing another’s right to a dignified life? 

Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

Although sex as a business is a tale as old as time, sex trafficking is a relatively modern term. It was coined in the 1980s during the second wave of feminism. The women’s rights movement protested coercing and abuse in prostitution. If someone enters into prostitution by choice then they are exercising their right to choose. But if you are kidnapped, forced, sold then you are a victim of sex trafficking. For the purposes of this article, we would rather not debate whether any form of prostitution is really a choice at all or a choice “forced” by poverty. 

Historically prostitutes have gone by many names – courtesans, geishas, handmaidens, mistresses. They have been revered, cast aside, politicized and ostracized. But in the end, it really is a choice born out of circumstances. As Amy Poelher said in one of the Golden Globes opening monologues “none of us have plans to do porn.”

One of the authors of this article – Emerald Pasfield – is part Filipino and she brought the issue of the lost children of the Philippines to our attention. When contemplating how best to shine a light on this particular wicked problem, we decided to start how we usually do. By drawing a cause and effect map. In doing so, we realised the harrowing plight of these children.  

Born to Filipino mothers working in the sex trade, their fathers are usually white caucasian males. The mothers were either sold into the trade at a very young age, abused and coerced by a relative or forced to make this choice out of poverty. 

Right from the outset these children are at a disadvantage. Due to their distinctly foreign genetics (Caucasian,Korean, African), the story of their birth is public knowledge[1] . The lost children of the Philippines are marginalized within their own communities and more often by their mother. Fatherless, forgotten and discarded, this is the Philippines’ cross to bearThe heavy toll of sex tourism. [2] 

Sex Tourism is approximately a half a billion dollar industry in the Philipinnes. It attracts predominantly white older males to experience the no strings attached “Girlfriend Experience.” The young women living in slums were probably born into extreme poverty or children of sex workers themselves. They grow up in a world where sex work, abuse, rape and a myraid of issues that go with it are normalized. 

In order to understand the vicious cycle these children find themselves in, we attempted to map the cause and effects:

The problem is not as localized as we first thought. It’s a much larger global political issue. The local police, bars, night clubs, and crime syndicates are involved in ensuring the continued survival of the trade. 

Tourists, predominantly older men find Philippines thriving sex trade to be the main attraction. Mothers looking to secure a better future for their daughters “sell” them to rich western men at a young age. Securing a western alliance for their daughter is considered to be a gold standard. 

If you are thinking surely there are laws against such things. We are part of civilized society after all with guaranteed human rights. Well you are right in thinking so. Prostitution is illegal in the Phillipinnes. But when the very officials who are supposed to enforce the law profit off of the sex trade, rights are the first to be thrown out of the window. 

It’s an almost don’t ask-don’t tell policy aided and abetted by money and power. We will give you a simple example. If a British man fathers a child in the Philippines, UK law does allow the mother to claim child support. To do so they need to prove paternity. DNA and paternity tests are extremely costly in the Philippines. How can a pregnant woman living a life of poverty afford to get one? That’s the first hurdle. After this they need to hire a lawyer to enforce child support orders. A costly affair riddled with bribery and corruption. 

You might be thinking ok that’s fair. But surely knowing they are in the sex trade, women would be on the pill. Being a strictly religious country, contraceptives are frowned upon and not freely available. 

Everywhere these women turn, they seem to hit another brick wall and the generational cycle of abuse continues. The system is rigged against them. Everybody involved benefits except the sex workers. The result? A new generation of lost children. 

Here’s a documentary that gives an in-depth look at this situation. 

As children, we were scared of monsters under the bed. For the lost children of the Philippines these monsters are very real and probably in the bed with them.