Cara* was only 15 when she decided to leave Davao to work in Manila. She was recruited by a neighbor’s relative who promised to help her get a job as a domestic helper. She was given a fake birth certificate and was told to lie about her age. Upon arriving in Manila, Cara and her companions were immediately met by their employers. They also had to sign papers stating they had a debt of P4500 and had to work for several months without pay.
Her employer’s house was huge and there were only two maids to do all the chores. “Kaunting mali ko lang, sinasaktan na ako,” Cara shares. “Kapag may inutos sila na hindi ko matapos, sisigawan at mumurahin nila ako. Bawal din akong magpahinga.”
The torture that 15-year-old Cara endured in the daytime was nothing to the nightmares she faced at night. “’Yong employer kong lalaki, sinisilipan ako habang naliligo. Sa hatinggabi, pumapasok siya sa kuwarto ko at pinagsasamantalahan ako.”
For six months, Cara did not receive any salary. “Isang araw, naiwan ‘yong susi sa gate. Tumakas ako kahit hindi ko alam kung saan ako pupunta kasi hindi ko na talaga matiis.”
Tricks of the Trade
Human trafficking is the second largest illegal trade after drugs, with criminal traffickers earning over US$10 billion every year through the buying and selling of human beings. Victims are often young men and women whose only fault is to desire a better life for themselves and their families.
Ella*, 18, wanted to leave Ilocos and work in Manila so she could earn money to pursue her studies. A recruiter in town promised her a high-paying job and a good employer. But like Cara, she soon found that she was lured by false hopes and empty promises.
Aside from the endless, backbreaking housework, Ella had to deal with abuse from her employer’s older children. “Kapag nag-iinuman sila sa bahay, pinipilit din nila akong uminom. ‘Pag nalasing na ako, hinuhubaran nila ako at pinapasayaw, pagkatapos vini-video nila ako. Kapag hindi ako sumunod, sinusuntok nila ako.”
The first time she tried to escape, Ella chose to seek help from the barangay, only to have them return her to her employers. “Galit na galit ‘yong employer ko kasi pinahiya ko daw ang pamilya nila. Sinakyan nila ako at binugbog ako. Hindi ako makapalag kasi ang dami nila.”
Ella was locked in a room with no food and water. She had no choice but to endure the pain. When her bruises healed, she found the courage to escape for the second time. This time, she called a friend who brought her to a hospital and referred her to the Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF).
Forced Into Sexual Slavery
Unlike Cara and Ella, Lily* was 25 when she fell victim to human trafficking. She had already graduated from college in Negros when she was offered a job as a front desk officer at a hotel in Sabah, Malaysia. She was excited at the prospect of going abroad, but when she got there, the truth crashed down upon her—she had been tricked into sexual slavery.
“The day I arrived in Malaysia, I already had a very bad feeling. They took our passports and brought us to a hotel, which was actually a saloon with cubicles where customers could engage in paid sex. Some girls were forced to have sex with up to six guys every night. One night, when a customer brought me to a hotel, I called a friend who helped me escape.”
Lily bursts into tears as she recounts the details of her escape. “Takot na takot ako kasi alam ko malaking sindikato ‘yong kalaban namin. I left Malaysia with no passport. I’m so grateful to the people who helped me. If I had been caught, I could have been killed.”