KOTA KINABALU: As she wipes her tears away, Lina expresses her one wish — to hug her children once again.
Pressed by poverty, Lina (not her real name) left her 9-year-old daughter and baby boy in the Philippines to work at a karaoke lounge in Sabah, excited at the prospect of earning 20,000 pesos (RM1,490) a month.
But when she arrived in the city from her home in Manila, the 26-year-old was sold to the highest bidder and made to work as a prostitute.
Lina is just one of many Filipinas duped into the flesh trade in Sabah and in other parts of the country, Singapore and the Middle East.
“I was forced to work as a prostitute for a month,” Lina told the New Straits Times. “Each time a customer complained, my salary would be deducted. We were told that we owed our boss so we never received our pay.”
Daisy (not her real name) wanted to study tourism after finishing high school but couldn’t afford to because she had been abandoned by her mother.
“A friend said I should work in a karaoke lounge in Sabah and I could earn up to 25,000 pesos (RM1,800), so I agreed. Several men came to view me and I was bought from the lady who met us when we arrived here. One man gave her a thick bundle of cash.
“I worked for two weeks and contracted a sexually transmitted disease. I paid for expenses to come here but was told I owed the pimp money.
“We never had enough to eat. It’s been a nightmare. I was told I could do the same thing in Dubai, Kuwait and Singapore. I’m not interested. I just want to go home,” said Daisy, who is from Manila, too.
Both women are expected to return home when their travel documents are sorted out. They are now staying at a privately-run charity home.
Philippines-based Coalition Against Trafficking in Women — Asia Pacific executive director Jean Enriquez said in an email that it was difficult to give an exact number of Filipinas who had been forced into the flesh trade overseas.
“But we can say from the calls we are getting and our work around the Philippines that (human) trafficking has become critical in Malaysia and, more recently, in Singapore and Dubai. These three countries often come up in our research, education and rescue work.
“While the proximity of Mindanao (southern Philippines) to Sabah is a factor, poverty is another reason. Desperate for income, mothers allow their daughters to leave. Then they hear stories from people returning from Sabah that numerous Filipinas end up as prostitutes,” Enriquez said.
Sabah-based social activist Anne Keyworth said there were hundreds of Filipinas in Lina’s and Daisy’s situation.
“The authorities need to do something about massage parlours or reflexology centres which are fronts for prostitution. Why are they allowed to operate in the middle of the city and the outskirts?”
She hoped those behind the rings that hire Filipinas would be charged under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007, which came into effect 18 months ago.
On Tuesday, four men and a woman were acquitted by the Sessions Court on a charge of wrongfully confining eight Filipinas for prostitution.
Judge Ummu Kalthom Abdul Samad said the prosecution had failed to prove the element of prostitution as clients were not called as witnesses and the investigating officer did not check the place said to be used for prostitution.