“My Kids Gotta Eat…”

Debt bondage: the process by which oppressors keep people enslaved by continuing to rack up real or false debts owed by the oppressed. Things such as visas, plane tickets, room and board, clothing, drugs, jewellery, or anything that can have a dollar amount attached to it is obscenely and wrongly placed upon the shoulders of slaves making it virtually impossible for them to pay back what they "owe". The process is so oppressive in some cultures that debts are passed down from generation to generation, and babies are, from the time they are born, owned by oppressors.

In Canada, debt bondage is common. A pimp or recruiter will love a bomb a girl (for example) with fancy cell phones, nice clothes, money, drugs or other material goods all under the pretense that these are acts of devotion and caring. In reality, they are acts of blackmail that will come back to haunt the girl when the pimp says: "Pay up." Then the girl is turned out to work the debt off, but mysteriously it keeps rising. Suddenly there are more debts to be paid and more reasons why she cannot buy her freedom.

I expected something similar in the Philippines. While it certainly happens here, local workers and former prostitutes say it is not as common as in other countries. 71% of Filipino families cannot make ends meet each month with the wages they earn, and children must eat. Poverty, shame, shaky familiy situations, fear, abuse and drugs all play roles in prostitution and sexual slavery but often if a girl pays off her debt, she's free to go. Where one leaves, there are 10 more to take her place.

What's sad is that when a girl is forced to begin her life as a prostitute at 7… 11… 15 years old, that's all she knows. She wants nothing more than to be free, and makes intelligent and strong plans to win that freedom. But once out of the trade… ????? Many girls return "voluntarily" (I have my qualms about how that word is interpreted) because it's all they know. They hate themselves for it, they feel disgusting, ashamed, and dirty. But without education, family, medical care, home, or God, where is she to go? What else is she to do? Female pimps are common here and often make a good deal of cash. With 3 mouths to feed, they choke down their shame knowing it's wrong to sell flesh for cash, and focus on raising their children… hopefully to a better life.

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  1. Whitney

    Thanks for sharing about your experience so far in the Philippines! I relate the problem with women “voluntarily” returning to prostitution to recidivism in the United States. Sometimes those imprisoned become comfortable with the system/institutionalized. Consider the movie The Shawshank Redemption. When Brooks Holten is released from prison, after serving several decades in prison, he does not know how to cope with the “free” life and hangs himself. Like Brooks, these women and girls have no way to cope with living the “free” life, especially when they began exposure at such young ages. I completely agree with your assessment that they return, because “its all they know.” Continue your good work!

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