Human trafficking in PH: Battle just beginning

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While the U.S. State Department recently recognized the Philippines for levelling-up its efforts against human trafficking – authorities agree the fight has just begun.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — "Sam," not her real name, was lured by her neighbor to pose naked online in exchange for money.

She was 12 then.

What she thought was a simple job turned out to be her worst nightmare.

"Di ko po alam gagawan niya po ako ng hindi maganda. Kinukunan nya po ako ng pictures na naked lang ako. Tapos pinapa-meet nya po ako sa customers," Sam, recalls.

[Translation: I didn't realize it would lead to something worse. Pictures of me naked were taken then I was made to meet up with customers.]

That went on for three years.

"Inisip ko lang po parang hindi na po 'to maganda. Pero hindi ko po naisip na mali pala 'yun," the now 14-year-old says.

[Translation: I thought it was just improper. I didn't realize it was really wrong.]

In 2014, she was rescued along with other kids – ranging from five to 17 years old.

The youngest, she says, was a one-year-old baby.

'Innovative' human traffickers

Authorities recognize that with the advent of technology, human traffickers also have become "innovative" – with online sexual exploitation of children becoming a serious problem in the country.

"It's probably one of the darkest and evil crimes committed against our children. Unfortunately, the Philippines is becoming a hotspot for (this)," International Justice Mission Manila's Sam Inocencio says.

READ: Malaysia rescues 29 trafficked Filipino women from bars

Maria Cecilia Flores-Oebanda of the Visayan Forum agrees.

She explains, "They change their tactics. The landscape is also changing. So I think it is very important for us to be proactive and identify more strategic approaches."

Fortunately, "Sam" didn't only recover – she overcame her experience and grew up to be and advocate against human trafficking.

Tier 1 level

But if there's one thing the government is proud of – is that we're the only Southeast Asian country under Tier 1 level.

This means, the country is complying with the "minimum standards" against human trafficking.

But the Philippine government isn't celebrating just yet.

"Being in Tier 1 doesn't really mean na we stop our efforts there. We actually need to up the bar,"  Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT)  Executive Director Darlene Pajarito says.

As of August 2016, there are already 259 convictions against human traffickers.