As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the Philippines, and traffickers exploit victims from the Philippines abroad. The government processes approximately 2.3 million new or renewed contracts for Filipinos to work overseas in nearly 170 countries each year; however, temporary travel restrictions related to the pandemic prevented many Filipino workers from departing for overseas employment during the reporting period. A significant number of Filipino migrant workers become victims of sex trafficking or labor trafficking in numerous industries, including industrial fishing, shipping, construction, manufacturing, education, home health care, and agriculture, as well as in domestic work, janitorial service, and other hospitality-related jobs, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, but also in all other regions. Traffickers, typically in partnership with local networks and facilitators and increasingly using social networking sites and other digital platforms, recruit unsuspecting Filipinos through illegal recruitment practices such as deception, hidden fees, and production of fraudulent passports, overseas employment certificates, and contracts to exploit migrant workers in sex and labor trafficking. In January 2021, media reported traffickers fraudulently recruited dozens of Filipino domestic workers to work in the United Arab Emirates but instead transported them to Damascus for forced domestic work. Using tourist visas available in Middle East countries where many Filipinos work in household service jobs, traffickers lure children from remote areas of Mindanao and other regions then sell them to employment sponsors who exploit them. Traffickers also use student and intern exchange programs, and fake childcare positions as well as porous maritime borders to circumvent the Philippine government and destination countries’ regulatory frameworks for foreign workers and evade detection. Traffickers exploit Filipinos already working overseas through fraudulent employment offers to work in another country. Traffickers took advantage of the absence of adequate immigration personnel at smaller airports in the Philippines.
Forced labor and sex trafficking of men, women, and children within the country remains a significant problem. Traffickers exploit women and children from rural communities, conflict- and disaster-affected areas, and impoverished urban centers in sex trafficking, forced domestic work, forced begging, and other forms of forced labor in tourist destinations and urban areas around the country, and exploit men in forced labor in the agricultural, construction, fishing, and maritime industries, sometimes through debt-based coercion. NGOs and government officials continued to report cases in which family members sold children to employers for domestic labor or sexual exploitation, and there are reportedly hundreds of thousands of children involved in selling and begging on the streets who are at risk to exploitation. One study found that approximately 50,000 Filipino children are employed as domestic workers in the Philippines, including nearly 5,000 who are less than the age of 15. A significant percentage of working children faced hazardous working conditions, including in mines, factories, and farms, where they likely experienced indicators of forced labor. Indigenous persons and many of the approximately 340,000 internally displaced persons in Mindanao are at risk of trafficking, including through fraudulent promises of employment. Non-state armed groups operating in the Philippines, including the New People’s Army, Maute Group, the Moro National Liberation Front, the Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, recruit and use child soldiers, at times through force, for combat and noncombat roles. The Islamic State reportedly subjects women and girls to sexual slavery.
Traffickers exploit Chinese and other Asian women in commercial sex in locations near offshore gaming operations that cater to Chinese nationals; however, the pandemic resulted in a massive departure of Chinese nationals employed in offshore gaming operations during the reporting period which resulted in deceased reports of sex trafficking among this community. Sex trafficking also occurs in tourist destinations, such as Boracay, Angeles City, Olongapo, Puerto Galera, and Surigao, where there is a high demand for commercial sex acts. Although the availability of child sex trafficking victims in commercial establishments declined in some urban areas, child sex trafficking remains a pervasive problem, typically abetted by taxi drivers who have knowledge of clandestine locations. Many sex tourists in the Philippines are convicted or charged sex offenders or pedophiles in their home countries and are most commonly citizens of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States with an increasing number of reports from Canada, Morocco, Iraq, and Denmark. Filipino men also purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. Law enforcement information indicates that the Philippines is one of the largest known sources of online sexual exploitation of children, in which traffickers sexually exploit children, individually and in groups, in live internet broadcasts in exchange for compensation wired through a money transfer agency by individuals most often in another country, including the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The traffickers are often parents or close relatives who operate in private residences or small cyber cafes and many child victims, girls and boys, are younger than 12 years. Identified hotspots for this form of sex trafficking in Luzon and Visayas include Iligan, Lapu-Lapu, Pampanga, Quezon City, Malabon, Pasig, Taguig, and Caloocan. Reports cited a nearly 265 percent increase in unconfirmed reports of online child sexual abuse during the pandemic. Economic impacts of the pandemic, combined with an increased amount of time children spent at home, resulted in an increasing number of families to force their children into online sexual exploitation.
Officials, including those in diplomatic missions, law enforcement and immigration agencies, and other government entities, allegedly have been complicit in trafficking or allowed traffickers to operate with impunity. Some corrupt officials allegedly accept bribes to facilitate illegal departures for overseas workers, operate sex trafficking establishments, facilitate production of fraudulent identity documents, or overlook illegal labor recruiters. Reports in previous years asserted police conduct indiscriminate or fake raids on commercial sex establishments to extort money from managers, clients, and victims. Some personnel working at Philippine embassies reportedly withhold back wages procured for their domestic workers, subject them to domestic servitude, or coerce sexual acts in exchange for government protection services. There were anecdotal reports that police and local government units subjected individuals who had voluntarily surrendered to officials in relation to the government’s anti-drug campaign to forced labor.