By Raïssa Robles
A YouTube video from an NGO working for years against child trafficking may have been the source of US Ambassador Harry Thomas’ off-the-cuff remark on sex tourists.
Two weeks ago, Thomas told a forum of judges:
I estimate that maybe up to 40% of foreign men who come here come for sexual tourism and that is unacceptable.
This remark was not in his speech uploaded on the US Embassy website.
Since my editor at South China Morning Post asked me to write a story about it, I looked and asked around where the envoy could have drawn his figures.
It turned out that Dolores Alforte, who heads Ecpat in Manila, had uploaded a remark on YouTube that Ambassador Thomas may have echoed or known about. Or they may be drawing from the same pool of information.
Ecpat stands for this:
It has been rescuing child prostitutes since the early 2000s and is one of the NGOs funded by Unicef.
In the YouTube video, Alforte states:
It is estimated that 40% of male foreign visitors coming to the Philippines are sexual exploiters. They can be professionals or ordinary men traveling. But when they are offered, they tend to accept the offer for experience.
The Philippines is very beautiful … has so many things to offer. But in as much as children are already being offered, I hope you will not accept the offer when you come to the country.
We have no statistics on prostitution, especially child prostitution.
You can either believe Dolores Alforte or not.
The Department of Tourism told me that Ecpat was one of the NGOs with whom they coordinate.
One of the painful truths she told me when I interviewed her extensively for an article on human trafficking back in 2003 was that many parents were pimping their own children. And there is a gap in our anti-trafficking and anti-child abuse laws that allow parents to to sell their children for sex and then go scot free.
Let me quote a portion of my November 2003 story:
On a recent Philippine Airlines flight travelling north to Manila from Cebu province, a stewardess could not help noticing a Caucasian pawing an 11-year-old Filipina beside him. At one point he took the girl inside the toilet and closed the door.
The stewardess knocked and told him to open up. When he did so, he denied engaging in any inappropriate behavior. Upon touchdown, the flight crew alerted airport police about a suspected paedophile on board. But the police were forced to let the foreigner go after he presented the girl’s mother. She, too, had been on board, but was seated away from them.
‘What prevents authorities from nailing these guys is they seem to have the approval of parents,’ said Dolores Alforte, who heads the Philippine chapter of NGO End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (Ecpat).
‘Countless times,’ Ms Alforte said, they were confronted with this disturbing reality that exploited a loophole in the Special Protection against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act of 1992.
This law states that a person may only be charged with an ‘attempt to commit prostitution’ if found ‘alone’ with a child – anyone below 18 – who is not kin.
Parents and family members hawking their own relatives have been increasingly noted by authorities, according to lawyer Angelica Somera, who heads a unit investigating violence against women and children at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), within the Department of Justice.
Convictions are rare. The law requires a complainant – usually the victim. In many instances, the victim files an ‘affidavit of desistance’, Ms Somera noted. She suspected a monetary settlement behind many cases.
You can watch Dolores Alforte’s video below: