A Successful Anti-Trafficking Idea from the Philippines

By Mitzi Perdue 

 Dr. Bernadette MadridIf you were to ask Dr. Bernadette Madrid why she values her work as founding director of the Child Protective Unit (CPU) in the Philippines, she might share with you the case of a 16-year old girl we’ll call “Ana.”

On New Year’s Eve three years ago, Ana presented at the hospital with a 1.5 by 2-inch vaginal mass. It was a pus-filled gonorrheal boil, and when a boil reaches that size, it is terribly painful.

Nurses drained the boil and gaveAna the antibiotics needed to cure the infection. However, Madrid, as head of the CPU, wanted to know why the girl hadn’t sought medical attention sooner.

Ana’s Story

 Madrid discovered that Ana didn’t get medical help earlier because she was a victim of sex trafficking. Her victimizer didn’t care that she was sick and in pain.

Ana had gotten into prostitution because a trafficking recruiter had come to her shack in Leyte and told her mother, “I’ve got a good job for your daughter in Manila! She can send you money!”

Ana’s mother didn’t have a lot of choices. Without the money that Ana could earn in Manila, the mother wouldn’t be able to feed her other children.

 However, as Ana later found out, the “good job” was in a brothel. It meant taking care of the sexual desires of eight or so “customers” each day. This was even if she was sick or menstruating.

For a couple of months, she was forced to do this, and in the process developed a bad case of gonorrhea. Ana escaped when a customer let her borrow his cell phone to call her aunt.

Her aunt immediately took her to the CPU unit at the Philippines General Hospital. Dr. Madrid and the CPU social worker worked with an international NGO and the police to investigate the case.

However, Ana was afraid to press charges. She was terrified of the traffickers and fled back to Leyte

Things Take a Turn for the Better

Under normal circumstances, Ana would have been at overwhelming risk of being re-trafficked.  The economic situation hadn’t improved: there were still children to be fed and not enough money for food.

But then things changed.  The CPU worked with the Department of Social Welfare and Services and was able to find Ana. 

They arranged for Ana and her family to be a part of the Conditional Cash Transfer Program.  The family got a 500 pesos health grant and the children got 300 pesos per month (about six US dollars) along with the condition that the children stay in school, receive basic health care, and have regular visits from a social worker. 

Today Ana is on track to finish high school. The Conditional Cash Transfer Program means that she has a chance of a normal life with prostitution no longer a part of the picture.  

Why Is Ana’s Outlook So Much Brighter?

Here the story takes a detour back to the late 1970s.  Ana’s outlook is almost infinitely brighter than it might have been if David Bradley hadn’t been a Fulbright Scholar in the Philippines.     

During his stay in the Philippines, Bradley became so fond of the Filipino people that he made a promise to himself: If he ever became an economic success, he would do something for the country he had grown to love.

Fortune did smile on Bradley, including a string of successes in research and publishing. He began looking for the best way to give back. 

His answer was to create the Child Protective Unit of the Philippine General Hospital. The CPU provides abused children, often ones like Ana who’ve suffered from sex trafficking, with what in effect is a “one-stop-shop center” for services.

These include medical care, mental health counseling, educational assistance, and the services of a social worker and if needed, coordination for urgent safety/shelter.  The CPU also has a close association with local law enforcement,

Madrid is the first director. The model was so successful that according to Madrid, “Today we have units in 55 of the Philippines 81 provinces and a network of CPUs, the Child Protection Network (CPN). In the next five years, we hope to be in all the provinces.” 

An impressive aspect of Bradley’s idea is how affordable it is.  A Child Protective Unit in an under-served province can be created for the almost unbelievably low price of $20,000.  

The price is low because Madrid and her colleagues can leverage the support of existing government and regional hospitals. Also, local governments pay salaries and operational costs.

Who Are the Heroes?

There are heroes in this story, Who are they?

  • Ana and children like her who show resilience and the power of forgiveness to overcome the abuse?
  • Bernie Madrid, who put the idea into action and helped spread it?
  • David Bradley, who had the idea and put resources behind it?
  • Senator Fulbright, who years ago arranged for scholarships where Americans could study abroad?
  • The CPU professionals and multidisciplinary partners who together comprise the unique Child Protection Network?

Ana and countless others are today leading their lives with dignity.  The reason? An inspiring and life-changing idea: Child Protection Units as a part of nationwide Child Protection Network.