By SUSAN V. OPLE
How was it possible for a 16-year-old girl to have passed through stringent government rules and procedures in the Philippines to end up as a maltreated domestic worker in the Middle East?
This is a puzzle especially for those in government when news came about a 13-year-old Filipino domestic worker who was abused by her employers. It turned out that she was born on May 30, 1998, and so, these initial reports were erroneous. What is undeniable is that a 16-year-old should never have been able to leave the Philippines to work overseas.
The case of “Fatima” shows that a determined syndicate out to profit from the exploitation of the young and vulnerable can thwart a fortress of laws and procedures. This should in no way exculpate the physical abuse committed by her employers abroad. Human trafficking is a global transnational crime that respects no borders, and sees no other color but that of hard cash.
An in-depth investigation will be launched to determine how Fatima was recruited and deployed despite her tender age, Administrator Hans Leo Cacdac of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) said in an e-mail reply to this writer.
“We shall fully determine the specific violations of the Anti-Trafficking Law once we have gathered enough information or have interviewed Fatima ourselves about her experience,” Administrator Cacdac said.
Based on POEA records, the recruitment agency involved, Sherine Recruitment, has seven pending cases for recruitment violations, involving misrepresentation through the submission of falsified documents.
“An Order of Preventive Suspension against both Sherine and Al Sayar (the Saudi-based agency) and the household employer was issued on July 25 2014 and was served on July 28, 2014,” he said.
Meanwhile, the government’s priority concern is to provide much needed counseling and medical attention to Fatima while she remains under the custody of the Philippine Embassy.
Under Philippine law, immediate mandatory repatriation should be undertaken in case of minors. Department of Foreign Affairs is also looking into the case.
Certainly, all agencies involved in migration issues should be alarmed at how a licensed recruitment agency in Manila was able to pull this off. In the Philippines, overseas domestic workers must be at least 23 years old.
The bilateral labor agreement signed by the Philippines and Saudi Arabia will hopefully lead to a quicker resolution of such cases and a more coordinated program to prevent such abuses.
Administrator Cacdac said that the bilateral labor agreement “enables labor officials on both sides to freely communicate through e-mail or phone calls about any pressing, relevant matter.”
The Standard Employment Contract for household service workers from the Philippines as approved by both countries bears a special provision that the employer and his family members will treat the domestic worker humanely, with respect and dignity. Violators of this provision will be held accountable under Saudi laws and regulations as invoked in the agreement.