DAVAO CITY –  At age 10, Liling had her first sexual experience with her boyfriend three years her senior.  A year later she ran away from home and joined a gang that engaged in prosititution.

She started as a “shine girl”,  a term for minors who contract sexual services to customers through hand jobs or oral sex and be paid P200 to P300.

She stopped a few months later when her mother died and went back to her relatives. A year later, she was back in the streets.

Last year, and already 13, Liling became a stripper and entertainer in Mati, Davao Oriental. Customers would take her out for sex. But during the day she would be locked inside a safe house. Depressed, she attempted to commit suicide once by swallowing ten tablets of pain killers but survived.

She escaped with the help of a companion. But instead of going home, she got into a relationship that was later marked with more physical abuses.

She decided it was time to quit the whirlwind affair with sex.

Now at age 14, she is back in school through the government’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) for youths who stopped schooling.  She gets an allowance by making handicrafts.

Liling’s recovery is one among the few women in prostitution “rescued” by non-government organizations, and among the 43 women that the women advocacy group Talikala is sponsoring their schooling.

Talikala Director Jeanette Laurel-Ampog said Liling’s case shows women in prostitution are getting younger, at ages nine or ten.

An estimated 2,500 women, 40 percent of whom are minors, are unregistered, and plying the sex trade in the streets at night. They are found along Tionko-Araullo junction behind the Bangko Sentral compound, in downtown streets of Anda, San Pedro, Legaspi and Camus; in Quirino Avenue and in Santa Ana Avenue, and in Agdao, Bajada, Sasa, Bonguyan and Toril.

The women engaged in prostitution and registered with the city number 1,500, and they work as dancers, guest relations officers, masseuse in clubs, videoke bars and massage parlors.

This is outside of an unaccounted number of women and children being trafficked.  Forty-nine cases were recorded from January to June this year, 28 of whom were aged 12 to 17.

It remains uncertain how many others end up in prostitution dens and in sweat shops, and popular destinations are Cebu and Makati, she said. Some end up in small towns or cities such as Tagum, Mati, Kapalong, Cateel, San Francisco, General Santos, Tacurong, and Monkayo.

Ampog said prostitution is increasing because lack of access to social services, employment and education made them vulnerable  to this trade.

“Majority of the women and children in prostitution are elementary-level. Other women are single parents and are desperate to earn for their children’s survival. Some of them are breadwinnners for their family and augment the family income,” Ampog said.

Because of the need for survival, there is difficulty for NGOs like them to advise prostituted women to stop. Ana Luisa Calix, who formerly engaged in prostitution, affirmed this.

“When we asked if they want to quit, they will ask how are we going to feed our families? We haven’t finished high school, what kind of work can we find,” Calix said.

Calix recalled that she herself took eight years before saying it was time to quit. “I remember Talikala people kept coming back and I said okay. But it took me eight years before they convince me to finally stop,” she said.

She now heads the group, Lawig Bubai, that provides counselling and alternative work to women rescued from the sex trade.

Ampog said NGOs and the local government can only do so much with counselling and trainings on women and children’s rights and reproductive health.

She said government should address two concerns on prostitution: jobs and  psycho-social support in order to help prostituted women to move forward from their past.

“Prostituted women developed a sub-culture which is generally not positive. They feel the urge to go back. They have this Messianic complex for the family, that they think they need to do this to help their families,” she said.

Ampog also pointed out the government should take a pro-active approach to arm community leaders and NGOs to warn women on the dangers of prostitution.

“They should address those children who are in the communities, they should start now before it is too late.  Because if they do it later, there are a lot of things they need to correct among women and children,” she said.

Talikala and Lawig Bubati will launch activities on the coming International Day to End Prostitution onOctober 5. These events will also be joined by the city government’s Integrated Gender Development Division. (Tyrone A. Velez, davaotoday.com)

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