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Cebu- Thongs and Devices

Caroly Houmes

As I am writing this, I am checking out of my hotel in Cebu, the Philippines, to fly back home, to Sydney.

We have just spent an amazing week here with people that you will be hearing from through this blog as well. A few minutes ago, I was on the phone with my family back home. One of my 3-year-old boys was in tears, because he wanted to watch Paw Patrol, but the battery of the iPad had died. Staring out my window, from which I can see the hills, I think back about our trip into these hills yesterday. It was the tears from Filipino children about devices like the iPad that brought us there. The whole week we had dived into this topic: cybersex trafficking.

It’s a rapidly growing, horrendous crime – a form of modern day slavery. Little boys and girls are being forced to perform and engage in sex acts – things their mind and little bodies can’t comprehend. They are being forced by people they thought they could trust; family and neighbours. And all this to please a foreign customer.

IJM fights to combat this.

We met our undercover investigators – who go by various names to get the evidence the national police need to conduct a rescue operation. We have met our lawyers – they go on the rescue operation together with the national police to help secure the evidence: devices we all use daily, mobiles, iPads and laptops. But in this case, it was used to record the torture and abuse of little children.

We have met our aftercare workers – who are dealing with the severe trauma of these children, to help restore their lives. All our colleagues in the IJM Cebu office have cried many tears. To see the children being removed from the families and the communities that was supposed to take care of them. To know that sometimes, in a broken world, in broken families, the only way to bring restoration is to take the child away. So that he or she can be safe – and heal.

And then we meet these girls…. in an aftercare home, in the hills. Some of them are just 3 years old. They were rescued over a year ago. One of the 3-year-old girls is wearing a comfortable legging and a t-shirt, while all the other girls wear beautiful dresses. She is messy, goofy, and lively. She reminds me of my 3-year-old boy. Because he is like that as well.

We see the thongs hanging outside and it occurs to me that it’s such a creative way to organize them. In my household you stumble over them as you enter our house. A household where my husband and I sometimes wish our 3 boys wouldn’t like our devices so much. But at least the devices bring education, enjoyment and relaxation to them. Not torture and shame.

We dance, sing and make music with these beautiful girls. Just like we do at home with our boys. And all of us are laughing and crying at the same time.

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