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Child trafficking feared in Yolanda-hit areas

Posted On 2013 Dec 05
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MANILA (Mabuhay) – Three weeks after Typhoon Yolanda battered the Visayas, three-year-old Tarin Sustento has yet to be found.

A resident of Leyte province, Sustento, whose parents and grandparents were among the over 5,000 killed in one of the country’s greatest disaster, was swept away by a storm surge at the height of the super typhoon.

His aunt, Genevieve Bindo-Wilcockson, said she has spent days scouring Tacloban’s evacuation centers in search of him. Daily pleas for information on his whereabouts are also posted on the internet. But these actions have yet to yield positive results.

Sustento is just one of the over 1,000 who are still unaccounted for three weeks after Yolanda, many of them children.

Authorities are not discounting the possibility that some of these missing children have fallen victims to child trafficking.

Carin van der Hor, the Philippines’ director for the aid agency Plan International, said in a crisis like Yolanda, “the risk of child trafficking is estimated to about 10 percent.”

“That scares us a lot,” she said at a press conference on Friday.

She noted that while roads and transportation in affected areas have improved and become accessible, “it also means that the doors are also open to trafficking.”

Van der Hor, however, said they have yet to confirm any incident, “but we have our suspicions,” pointing out the fact that most cases of trafficking are left unreported.

“I wish we have (record), but we only have anecdotal evidences from the areas we work in,” she said.

“Doing a good job”

For his part, Leonard Doyle of the International Organizations of Migrations, said the Department of Social Welfare and Development has been “doing the right thing” to prevent the potential threat of child trafficking.

“They are doing exactly the right thing. They are registering families, they are making sure no minors are traveling alone, they are making sure there are no suspicious groups (in the area),” he said.

On the other hand, Van der Hor advised local officials, especially in evacuation centers, to make sure children who are not with their parents or guardians, should not be immediately transferred to the hands of people claiming to be their relatives.

“How can a two-year-old tell you that ‘this is not really my uncle’,” she said. “So what we do, in situations like this, be it in evacuation centers, we immediately work with the people that… even if they think the person have good intentions, they cannot let anybody leave with a child unless there is proof.”

She also warned against those people who offer to bring children to Cebu or Manila promising a better future. (MNS)

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