Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Trafficking in Euphemisms

Last month, the Philippine National Police staged (the only word for it) a raid on a Manila club popular with foreigners called LA Café. During the raid, which was enthusiastically covered by the local media, "200 girls" were "rescued" in pursuance of the recently adopted, if irregularly enforced, protocol against human trafficking. The young women who were rescued were detained, their personal documents scrutinized, and, in case there was suspicion that they were underage, given dental examinations. Supposedly, the development of the girls' teeth would give away their true ages, even if it sounds to a layman suspiciously like junk science.

Part of a United Nations Protocol, the anti-human trafficking "guidelines" are defined specifically as "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation." The Philippines is, according to reports, making "significant" efforts to comply with the protocol, and a special unit was deployed on the night that LA Café was raided.

The club, which is owned by two Australians, is so popular among foreigners that they come from all over the globe to traffic in the young women who ply their wares on the premises. This is plainly nothing but prostitution, the most victimless crime ever, but the apparent powerlessness of local authorities to put a stop to it, with perfectly sound laws against it, is a cause of some embarrassment to politicians trying to clean up the sectors of Manila, one of the world's most sprawling cities, that are under their jurisdiction.

Such raids, if on a smaller scale, used to be conducted almost routinely, and resulted only in a momentary interruption of the clubs' booming business in, er, "human trafficking". Mayor Alfredo Lim, the venerable crusader who shut down the old Manila entertainment district in Ermita in the 1990s, only to see the clubs simply move to other parts of the city, or north to Angeles City (about which, more to come), personally padlocked the doors of LA Café, vowing that it will never reopen - at its present location, that is.

Since 17 of the 200 girls have been determined to be minors, charges of child abuse have been added to those of human trafficking against the Filipina proprietors (all women) of the establishment. The foreign owners have not been named in any legal action.

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