• Bright lights, dark underbelly

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    Atty. Dodo Dulay

    Atty. Dodo Dulay

    BARCELONA: Although New York is called “the city that never sleeps,” that moniker should actually belong to Barcelona—the capital of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain after Madrid. Well, sort of.

    Barcelona can be more accurately labeled as “the city that naps in the afternoon and parties until sunrise.”

    The Catalonian capital has set the gold standard for European nightlife and its many late-night clubs and bars has made this city the stuff of legend. Unlike New York, nighttime hotspots in Barcelona don’t really get going until 2 or 3 a.m.—and they don’t stop until sunrise. So when Barcelonians invite you for a night out, don’t be surprised if the meeting time (usually at someone’s apartment) starts at around 1:30 a.m.

    Beneath that party paradise, however, is the seedy side of Barcelona that tourists rarely see and which locals usually ignore.

    Barcelona is now reportedly the base of operations of a number of foreign crime syndicates. The 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report says “Barcelona . . . increasingly [serves as a base of operations]for Chinese sex trafficking networks and Nigerian and Albanian trafficking groups.”

    “While Spain’s special police broke up labor trafficking rings in the past run by Chinese mafia, the most recent busts have been in the brothels. In just two years, Chinese trafficking rings have monopolized the apartment-brothel industry. The trafficking ring had brought the girls into the European Union (EU) through Istanbul, Turkey by means of tourist visas.”

    Combatting sex trafficking in Barcelona isn’t easy since within the Spanish legal framework of prostitution, both the purchase and the sale of sex are legal but profiting from the prostitution work of someone else is prohibited, which means pimping and brothels are technically illegal.

    These meager restrictions are, however, easily sidestepped and rarely enforced. Some hotels, clubs, apartments, and houses function as brothels charging women a nightly rate for room and board.

    Based on a Spanish study, there were some 11,000 locations acting as brothels in Spain. And of the 400,000 or so prostitutes working in Spain, about 90% are trafficked from other countries, with 30% coming from the Balkans and many others from Africa and China, reports the New York Times.

    “The young used to go to discos but now they go to brothels. It’s just another form of entertainment to them,” Barelona’s councilor for women and civil rights said. Experts say the European union’s open borders and cheap travel is fueling the trafficking boom in Spain, along with a legal and unregulated sex industry.

    Yet, in spite the seemingly insurmountable odds, the Spanish government have made significant strides in enforcing anti-trafficking laws.

    In February last year, a court in Madrid handed down the highest penalty to date for sex trafficking in Spain, sentencing a Romanian trafficker to 30 years’ imprisonment. The trafficker had used debt bondage, threats, intimidation and violence to subject the adult victims to forced prosstitution and subjected one child victim to a forced abortion.

    A few years back, the Spanish government convicted at least 23 sex trafficking offenders, sentencing them to one to 30 years imprisonment. It also prosecuted a major conspiracy case involving six members of the national police, three lawyers, a public servant in Barcelona city hall, and brothel owners for collusion and forced prostitution.

    The Philippines, however, with its more numerous and stringent anti-human trafficking statutes—the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (RA 9208), the Special Protection of Children Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination (RA 7610), the Anti-Mail-Order Bride Law (RA 6955) and the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act (RA 8042)—has yet to put any big-time trafficker behind bars.

    This despite reports that roughly 30 percent of 1.1 million overseas workers are “runaways” or illegally brought to the host country. Other estimates put the number of undocumented OFWs at 2 million. How such a large number of illegal or undocumented workers can slip past immigration and airport officials with apparent ease is quite dumbfounding.

    While it’s easy to point a finger at our labor attaches and consular officers for the predicament of trafficked workers abroad especially with the recent “sex-for-flight” scandal, doing so will not prevent or stop the illegal “export” of our countrymen.

    There are many reported cases about undocumented OFWs who admittedly left the country with the help of unscrupulous recruitment agencies and crooked officials. But so far, none of these recruiters or officials been charged or convicted under our anti-trafficking laws as they should have been.

    If the government is really serious about preventing the exploitation and trafficking of our OFWs, it better start looking not at foreign shores but in our own country.

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