There are an estimated 784,000 people living in modern slavery in the Philippines (GSI 2018). Men, women and children are subjected forced labour and sex trafficking both within the country and in destination countries. Women and children are subjected to sexual exploitation in brothels, bars, and massage parlours, online, as well as in the production of pornography. The Philippines is an international hub for prostitution and commercial sex tourism – a highly profitable businesses for organised criminal syndicates. The demand for sex with children among both local and foreign men has continued to fuel child sex tourism. Rising internet usage rates, the availability of mobile phones and poverty has fostered online child sexual exploitation.
Immediately after graduating from high school, Julie was enslaved in Manilla where she danced and entertained customers. She escaped and returned home, but reflects on her friend Carmen who wanted to go to Japan, as they had originally been promised, where she was enslaved in prostitution.
My name is Julie. When I was 17-years-old a friend of my family introduced me to a “legal recruiter”. I had just graduated high school but my family could not afford to send me to college, so this chance for a job seemed great. The friend of my families had also brought my friend Carmen along. She was only 16-years-old and had graduated with me from high school.
We both talked to the recruiter and she showed us her license and other official papers to prove that she was a “legal recruiter.” I still don’t know if the license and papers were real or fake. She told us that we had a chance to go to Japan to wait on tables and welcome customers. She made sure our parents knew that it would be at a “good club, which only sells liquor, and sometimes even has singing and dancing shows.” As a show of good faith she even gave each of our families P500 as an advance. She said that we would be making much more money than that and we would be able to send most of the money home to our families. We were so excited and when we decided to leave with her she even gave us tooth brushes, toothpaste, and other things we needed for our travels to Manila.
We left home from the nearest major port at 7am on Friday morning. When we arrived in Manila we were immediately taken to a house and were not allowed to leave. Our food was brought to the house and we were forced to exercise everyday. We were never allowed to go into the sun. We were told that staying out of the sun would make us lighter and more pretty. We were also taught how to use cosmetics. They trained us on how to dance, in a sexy modern way, how to handle a tray and to sit with customers. It was a strictly controlled routine.
After about one month I began to get a bad feeling, I thought to myself, “Why could we not go out and why did we have to dance this way?” I decided that I was going to try to escape from the house. I asked Carmen to come with me, but she said, “No, I really want to go to Japan”. I waited for my chance and after another month I got it.
I had become friends with the “mayordoma” so one night I told her that I really needed some sanitary napkins, that I had started my “flow”. For the first time she allowed me to go out by myself, but she said she would be timing me. I never went to the store. As soon as I was out of the house I ran to the boat dock and hid until the next evening, when I knew a boat was leaving for home. I had sneaked some money out and paid for my trip back home. I was so happy to return to my family. Soon after I married my boyfriend. I now have a family and my husband drives a motor cab.
My friend Carmen did make it to Japan. She had used her sister’s data to get a passport and the agent took care of everything else. She arrived in Japan with a group of girls from around the Philippines. She was forced into prostitution and was able to send a little money home for the next two years. After two years of being prostituted she became pregnant and returned home. The money she had sent back did not last very long. She decided to leave her baby with her family and return to Japan.
As told to the International Organization for Migration in 2005.