The story of the rescue of Rosemary is heartening and encouraging. When we read about such stories of young children like that of Rosemary being helped and rescued from the clutches of depraved people who are arrested, we rejoice. But we may not know that hundreds of thousands are not rescued, they suffer abuse like Rosemary who was trafficked and sold at 14 years old into sex slavery and bondage. She was rescued, sheltered and healed while many others are not. A charity like Preda Foundation with limited funds can do only so much.
When children are saved by government social workers, police and charity workers, we applaud and approve and our admiration of good organized government services increases. Government is elected by the people, given public trust and paid through taxes on everything to serve the common good. In developing countries like the Philippines, government agencies, one by one have been captured by the rich to serve them rather than the poor. That’s why human trafficking and exploitation is on the increase.
Hundreds of thousands are barely surviving dire poverty and hunger; the children are the most at risk. They totter on the edge of abject poverty. This is now seen in all its shame by the fury of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). It bared the sprawling slums and stripped away the fragile fabric of the hovels of the teeming poor. Dire poverty was laid embarrassingly naked.
Such poverty and social injustice causes unrest, malnutrition, disease and illness. Economists say the Philippines has a strongly growing economy, creating wealth, but for whom? Little of it is reaching the poor. A cheap hungry labor force benefits the rich.
The Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showed that 21 percent of the population, that’s 4.3 million people, went hungry at least once in the second half of 2013. The poverty rate has not gone down and it is higher since 2005. Meaning the poor still have nothing much in the world and live from meal to meal.
Rosemary was a child of poverty. When her mother died of tuberculosis, Rosemary was taken by a pimp and trafficker who later became a manager of a sex bar frequented by international and local sex tourists. Rosemary was brought up as a sex worker, one of many thousands in the brothels and sex bars of the Philippines into which they are trafficked as human slaves trapped by debt.
In this beautiful country, the resilient, kind, patient and friendly people are exploited and most don’t know it. Silence is approval in the face of evil. We must oppose all human trafficking, child abuse and price fixing especially that which hurts the poor. We must speak out, protest and declare what is true and right, come what may.
Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.