Manila: Good Shepherd Sisters 50 years close to victims of trafficking and prostitution
by Santosh Digal

Several studies have shown that poverty and prostitution go hand in hand. In the Philippines, the problem mainly involves women and underage girls. Thanks to six reception centres throughout the country, the nuns continue their mission of supporting the last ones. Prevention also against online exploitation.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Women and girls trapped in networks of poverty and exploitation. Victims of trafficking and prostitution. These are the people who, for over 50 years, have been cared for by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, also known simply as the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

"We are committed to supporting women and children in difficulty due to poverty, unemployment and other social evils, such as prostitution, human trafficking and migration," recalled Sister Regina Kuizon, social worker, ahead of the World Day Against Human Trafficking, which is celebrated worldwide on 8 February. 

To help women in distress, the sisters run six shelters and community centres across the country providing them with psycho-social assistance and reintegration and training programmes to support themselves financially.

"Women who are forced into prostitution, or who have chosen to prostitute themselves, need better support to overcome their situation," Nenita A. Villamor, coordinator of a rehabilitation programme at the St. Brigit Community Centre, in Quezon City, run by the Good Shepherd Sisters. "They still have a future."

Although some women who have completed the course return to work as prostitutes, Villamor explains, the sisters do not lose hope and continue their mission. Over the years, thousands of women have changed their lives: "Giving them a ray of hope, providing joy and support to free them from the chains of poverty and exploitation is the mission of the sisters," says Villamor, who has been a close associate of the sisters for many years.

Between 800,000 and one million women, children and girls are prostitutes in the Philippines. Minors make up about 70 per cent of the general estimate.

For women, poverty and prostitution go hand in hand: thousands cannot study or finish school. Unable to escape poverty, they end up in prostitution, which represents easy and immediate gain.

Many women are forced into this work just to be able to eat at least once a day, a practice that the UN calls 'survival sex'. Several studies show the correlation between poverty and sexual exploitation: those who cannot get an adequate diet are 70% more likely to resort to prostitution.

The Good Shepherd Sisters are aware of how social problems are intertwined and that is why they act on six themes: care for migrants, trafficking, prostitution, economic justice, ecology and women's issues that specifically affect women and girls. "Our goal is to help women and girls who are caught in the webs of poverty, exploitation and injustice," Sister Anonita Borbon recounted.

In 2018, the Good Shepherd Sisters established the first shelter to provide assistance to people, especially minors, who have been sexually abused online, a phenomenon for which the Philippines suffers from a significant lack of facilities and resources.

The Good Shepherd shelter provides care for victims of sexual abuse at its premises and seeks to protect young people from internet exploitation through an innovative training programme that can also be used online.