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Aid agency warns of rise in child trafficking after 'Sendong'

AN INTERNATIONAL aid agency raised concern over possible rise of child trafficking cases in Northern Mindanao areas ravaged by Tropical Storm "Sendong".

Mardy Halcon, Plan Philippines communications officer, said although there are no reported cases of child trafficking in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan yet, authorities should remain vigilant.

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Cagayan De Oro and Iligan are two of the areas hit hard by Sendong, where over a thousand were killed and millions of pesos worth of infrastructure and crops were destroyed.

"Even without disaster, trafficking is an issue in the Philippines, so there is always the concern about that, that's why we supported the move of the Department of Education to open the classes last January 3," Halcon said, adding children are vulnerable if they are just in evacuation centers or loitering in their communities.

"Plan's disaster response is anchored on the framework of education in emergency. We have recognized that it is crucial for children in emergency situations to be back in a school environment as soon as possible. It reunites them with their peers, helps them gain a sense of normalcy and makes it easier to observe them for signs of distress or illness. Having them in schools also means that they can receive the proper nutrition and clean water, and this also lessens the chance of getting them trafficked and subjected to other forms of abuse," she added.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro earlier said the Department of Education decided to resume classes after the two-week long Christmas and New Year break to bring a semblance of normalcy, particularly the children who might be suffering from physical and emotional stress due to the sufferings they have witnessed in the aftermath of the typhoon.

Halcon said they are coordinating with the local government units, civil society organizations and non-government organizations, as well as the local Social Welfare and Development offices in the areas to ensure that children are protected.

This cooperation, she said, was vital in a case of a nine-year-old girl from Bayug island, Iligan City who was reunited to her relatives after she was swept by the raging floodwaters at the height of Sendong's fury.

According to Plan, Nika (not her real name) was rescued on the morning of December 17 and brought to a hospital for treatment.

But after getting well, Nika was not immediately reunited with her family, uncles and aunts as her parents and other siblings are still missing, and instead the City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) took her into custody and latter turned her over to a village councilman who signified interest to adopt the child.

Halcon said this makes her aunts and uncles uneasy as they do not want to put her into adoption and they do not know the councilman but when they asked the CWSDO to return her, they were told to focus on their other problems and attend to the child later.

The CSWDO reportedly also did not fulfill its promise to take Nika to the evacuation center to visit her aunts and uncles.

Nika's case was then referred to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Northern Mindanao, which verified that she was indeed in the care of the councilman, resulting in the coordinated efforts to bring her back to her relatives last January 2.

Halcon said while the case could not be said as trafficking, there is still violation of the policy on adoption.

Per DSWD policy, adoption should be made as a last resort and if no relatives are willing to take care of a child.

Halcon said Plan would further intensify its anti-trafficking campaign not only in Mindanao but in other parts of the country through a recently launched three-year P68 million project to put an end to the problem.

The project covers, among others, training for prosecutors and police officers handling trafficking cases, raising awareness in the community and re-integrating trafficked survivors back to their families and communities.

Since it started working on its anti-trafficking program in the Philippines three years ago, Plan said it was able to save more than 6,000 children from possible prostitution and other dangerous forms of child labor.

It has also institutionalized Child Protection Units (CPU) in various parts of the country where is maintained presence since 1961 when it accepted the invitation of Carlos Romulo, then the President of the 4th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. These CPU’s are one-stop facilities where abused children are provided with child-friendly services on investigations, medical examinations and psycho-social care.

Last year, the Philippines was removed from the human trafficking watchlist of the US State Department upgrading its status to Tier 2 category from Tier 2 watchlist of nations that do not comply with international standards to combat the scourge.

At present, Plan, which was founded in 1937 in England, is spending $11 million annually for its various programs (education, health and livelihood, governance, water and environmental sanitation, child protection and disaster risk reduction and management) in the country’s 479 barangays in eight of the poorest provinces namely, Masbate, Isabela, Occidental Mindoro, Eastern, Western and Northern Samar, Southern Leyte and Cebu’s Camotes island benefiting some 200, 000 children. (AH/Sunnex)


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