The Philippine Department of Tourism (DoT) have joined hands with several government agencies to stop sexual violence against women and children, a burgeoning problem fuelled by tourism growth in the country.
The Tourism Integrates, Supports and Minds Women’s Respect and Child Safety (TouriSM WorCS) programme supports the training of tourism frontliners like tour guides and hotel staff to detect such abuses and empower them to prevent, report and respond.
Tourism secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat said that besides the creation of the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT), every regional office will also have personnel dedicated to the safety of children and women in tourism.
Initiatives also include a partnership with global child safety network Friends International in the dissemination of leaflets titled ‘7 Tips for Travellers’ on the measures to take if a sex worker appears underage or if one spots an adult propositioning a child. The leaflet also contains IACAT’s hotline numbers.
Tourism Congress of the Philippines president Jojo Clemente said the private sector is supporting the initiatives, which he called a “good first step to eradicate the abuses which is still a reality”.
Noting that the “increase in tourism over the past decade in the Philippines has resulted in a parallel increase in sex tourism”, Council for the Welfare of Children’s executive director Mitch Cajayon-Uy has called on the DoT to watch tourism spots with the highest reported cases of child sex victims, including child pornography. Those spots are within the National Capital Region that includes metro Manila; Central Luzon; Central Visayas; Zamboanga Peninsula in Mindanao; and Northern Mindanao.
Cajayon-Uy said it is difficult to determine the number of victims. While the number of reported incidents of child sex abuses are “alarming”, there are also many “unreported cases (due) to its covert nature”.
Over the three-year period from 2016 to 2018, there were 388 reported cases of sexually exploited children and 103 victims of prostitution, while pornography victims numbered 107 and cyberpornography victims 180, according to Cajayon-Uy, who added that “most of the cases aren’t even reported”.
The Philippines has become a source and transit country for the cross-border trafficking of children, showing the dark side of tourism, she said.
Justice assistant secretary George Ortha II said the Department of Justice will form a one-stop shop in Manila to cater to the needs of human trafficking victims. “We are aware of tourist destinations becoming hotspots for human trafficking, particularly sexual exploitation,” he said.