There is a bar along the beachfront of Boracay called Charlihs (correct spelling) it is a legendary haunt that is open air and surrounded by coconut trees which also double as toilets. I think, or at least hope.
There is live music from a group of guys that belt out classics from the likes of Oasis, Cold Play and Bruce Springsteen. It’s a real magnet for music lovers like us looking to take a slice of paradise, mix it with an island vibe and then kick back and relax.
We headed there at around 9pm and finally stumbled out around half past midnight, the kids wanted to stay but having tired of lasers, sand and alcohol we made our way back to our beachfront hotel further down white beach. As we mooched along in the 90% humidity, the sound of the waves gently licking the shore, we joked about how funny it would be if a coconut fell from the tree and hit Charlie in the head. Walking along the beach we could feel music pulsating in the background and it was almost perfect.
Then I saw two children flaked out on the sand fast asleep (see the photos in this entry). I had seen the same two boys earlier in the day in the same place sat with cups begging for money, looking tired and malnourished. It was an awful thing to see and so we hunted down a shop which was open and bought the boys some biscuits which we placed in their cups for when they woke up. I felt so sad for those boys and it ripped my heart out that giving them a few biscuits was all I could do for them, it was a sobering reminder of what many people forget about SE Asia and as people walked by like they didn’t even exist it was a vision I knew I would remember and a sadness that would haunt me for a long time to come.
I remembered reading and researching poverty in SE Asia previously, and though the same cannot be said for all the countries in the region, most have or are taking positive steps to eradicate the abuse of kids and to help bring them from poverty. Sadly the Philippines is not one of those countries that is making consistent ground and the United Nations estimates that at least 100,000 children are forced into the child sex trade in the Philippines. It is also estimated that at least 40% of male travellers who turn up in the Philippines are sex tourists. Though of course not all tip up looking to rape a child, a large proportion (and probably most) arrive looking for love for a dollar. Or a bit of fun where a few dollars can seal the deal and instantly remove all strings.
But sadly, in a country where 30% of the population are fighting harsh poverty some foreigners are keen to capitalise on desperation. And it seems that despite a government pledge to reduce poverty by half come 2016 things will remain as bleak as they are now for over a quarter of Filipinos.
There is about 97 million Filipinos currently living in the Philippines meaning that over 24 million people are fighting to survive. And with an increase in population of about 5000 per day things are getting worse. With all the countries in SE Asia slowly chipping away at poverty the Philippines is struggling to match its regional counterparts. The main reasons for such a high proportion of poverty is that the infrastructure of the country is unable to meet any kind of increase in population growth. Already far beyond breaking point things have become unsustainable. There is also the issue that many well qualified Filipinos (such as nurses) are working overseas and so not paying into the country by means of taxes.
Additionally, in a region where foreign investment is paramount, the Philippines is unable to attract such investment due to inefficient business laws, high energy costs and poor protection against expropriation. So whilst countries such as Singapore and Malaysia thrive through foreign investment, the Philippines continues to trundle along with fairly consistent unemployment rates for the last decade.
Poverty trickles downwards and ultimately it is the families at the bottom of the tree who suffer the most. But the government is attempting to bridge the gap by providing welfare payments on an individual basis assuming certain criteria is met which is loosely that there must be children in the family, the children must be in school and they must have regular health check ups.
In a world where poverty matters the government has pledged to tackle the issue head on by creating jobs, addressing the housing shortage and increasing the availability of welfare payments for families below the poverty line. But things take time and families are desperate now.
Recently an Australian man by the name of Hilton Munro was found guilty of having sex with boys aged between 9 and 14, he recruited a local teen to ask around for young boys willing to have sex with Munro. They were taken to his hotel room where he photographed and had sex with them, paying them between $12 and $25 each.
Fortunately Munro was caught, but the sickening and sad reality is that in 2009 only 5 foreigners were deported for sex crimes against children. And with some 100,000 children regularly being abused by tourists its a harsh reality that it is a crime difficult to punish, or a crime whereby there is a reluctance to punish and highlight the obvious issues facing the most vulnerable of Filipinos.
Perhaps this is the reason that the Philippines remains the fourth most prevalent country in the world for the child sex trade. But things extend beyond 100,000 child prostitutes, there are countless children being abused in relationships where the foreign man meets the Filipino woman and gains her trust and then takes advantage of her children. Additionally, the age of consent in the Philippines is 18 years, add to that the proportion of 15 to 20 year olds who are prostitutes (350,000) and the number of children aged below 18 is dramatically higher.
The Red Cross estimates the amount of street children at 1.5 million and so prostitution for many of them is a way out. It is hardly surprising that some of these children let men defile their young bodies as a means to pay for their drug habit, or to provide at least some kind of income for them.
It is of course no surprise therefore that the areas of the country where the child sex trade is most thriving is the areas frequented by tourists such as Manila, Angeles, Mindoro and Cebu. The sickening twist is that many families are privy to their children being raped by foreign monsters. One of the most common ways a mother is forced to let her child be violated is by traffickers and the promise of a new life. Filipino women keen to capitalise on this promise are readily jumped upon by women desperate to free themselves from the reins of poverty. They and their children are taken to different and unfamiliar parts of the country where they are forced to pay off a ‘debt’ they have accrued. Through fear of consequence they let themselves and/or their children to be pimped out to tourists looking for sex with children.
A recent report by UNICEF claimed that there are around 200 brothels in Angeles City alone (a city North of Manila) with most offering up children for sex. Angeles city has cemented itself as the best place in the world for men to have sex with children, with many Australian bar owners pimping out young kids for a ‘bar fine’ a fee to be paid where the man can have inexpensive sex with a child. It’s a sickening yet sobering reminder of the harsh reality facing poverty stricken Filipino kids in a world where money talks and child molesting bastards walk.
In addition to actual sex with children the cybersex trade is booming with children having anonymity as they perform in front of webcams and are streamed around the world to paying foreigners anxious to satisfy their salivating urge for young flesh.
Unbelievably there is also an issue of ‘child organ trafficking’ where the World Health Organisation has identified the Philippines as one of the five most prevalent countries in the world for this practice. Children are abducted, or sold off by poor families and those that don’t go into the sex trade may end up being shipped abroad where their organs are taken and then sold off to wealthy individuals in need of a body part.
Its a serious, vomit and anger inducing state of affairs and worldwide organisations and governments blame corruption and greed of the Philippines government and local authorities for allowing this to get so out of hand. The local authorities and government blame foreigners for taking advantage of a high poverty rate and whilst everyone is pointing the finger, the victims are left often brutally raped and defiled. Governments such as the UK and US have legislation in place which prosecute their citizens under national law for having sex with minors abroad. But this law is rarely enacted as it relies on the hosting country to prove their guilt and in a country which prosecuted just five foreigners in 2009 the law is both inefficient and ineffective.
But then what is the solution? Morality surrounding prostitution is not the same here as it is in the West. Paying a woman for sex is the done thing and everyone is in on it. Just about every westerner I have seen so far has had a Filipino on their arm, often suspiciously young looking ones. Just today I saw an elderly white guy with silver hair hand in hand with a girl who can’t have been any more than 18 years old. Is that wrong? In my mind it is, but then if he has worked his entire life what is wrong with living out a fantasy with a consenting adult in his final stanza of life? Nothing I guess, but then perhaps that is the issue and the breeding ground; Foreign men looking for something they can buy to fulfil their fantasies. I mean what silver surfer in the UK with little money can attract a stunning 20 year old girl, here in the Philippines sex and happiness can be bought and perhaps that is why such a high proportion of tourists have just one thing on their mind as they arrive into Ninoy Aquino airport. The issue is that for every old guy looking for a bit of fun to live out his years, there is someone looking to exploit the dire situation facing over a quarter of the country and that all too often involves an innocent child. And that is the sad and sorry situation for which there seems no imminent solution.