Rosario Baluyot—her birth name—died at a tender young age a destitute and a child prostitute. Her life was a harrowing tale of child neglect, daily struggle to have daily ends meet, sexual exploitation, and injustice!
Rosario was born in the northern Philippine city of Olongapo, which used to be the site of one of the largest US Naval Base facilities in the Asia Pacific before it was rejected by the Philippine senate in the early 1990s. Her father left her after her mother died. She eventually started living alone in the streets after running away from her grandmother’s guidance. Rosario, in attempt to afford basic subsistence, found work as a prostitute near the American military naval base. This red light district was known as a destination for military men and foreign sex tourists who preyed upon children for prostition.
At midnight on October 10, 1986, Rosario and a boy went to a hotel room of the Austrian sex tourist Dr. Heinrich Stefan Ritter. After Rosario had sex with Dr. Ritter, he forced an electric vibrator into her vagina. Unfortunately, the device broke and left a five-inch long screw in her cervix. For almost seven months, she carried the broken object on her cervix and died because of the complications the screw brought.
After Rosario’s disturbing death, the search for justice of her case went as far as the Supreme Court, but was later reversed because of evidentiary grounds. The Supreme Court decision was later reversed due to the inability of the prosecution to probe beyond reasonable doubt that Rosario was under twelve years old at the omission of the crime; therefore the case did not fall within the jurisdiction of the statutory rape statute.
Ritter—the accused—was acquitted. His acquittal was granted despite his own previous admission of being with Rosario during the time the fragments were lodged in her cervix.
Added to that, there was no comprehensive law in the Philippines during that time that protected Filipino children from sexual exploitation, even if the country already ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. Soon after in 1992, the Child Protection Act was passed and became a landmark law in the protection of children in the Philippines.
The Plight of the Other Rosarios
Rosario’s case is a prime depiction of a failed justice system for children. Her story is a reflection of a society that failed to protect and provide its children opportunities to reach their fullest potential and become better members of society.
Sadly, Rosario’s story is not stand-alone. Her case is just one example of many other similar stories from various parts of the world in which children are trafficked, enslaved, and sold for commercial sexual exploitation. At a very tender age, many of these children are living in destitute. Most have no access to quality basic education. In various cases, some children are forced to drop out of school to work at a young age and make daily ends meet in order to support their families. Such conditions make them easy prey to these child exploiters.
Many of the children being sexually exploited are typically from less affluent communities and are lured by promises of money and a better life in the city. Some are sold with their parents’ consent, while others go into this field of work by their own submission because they are under the assumption that this is the only option that can help them escape poverty. The saddest case is when children are cornered into this type of work against their own will. Some of them are brought to brothels as household help and eventually sexually abused by their employers. Others are sold to become private sex slaves.
Commercial sexual exploitation is increasing in developing countries—such as the Philippines—due to the lack of child protection laws, the laxity of law enforcement, and the lack of programs. This is posing an increasingly challenging task for developing countries to address. Horrifying to note, more young people like Rosario are becoming victims of such crimes.
Ultimately, Rosario’s death became a battle cry for child rights advocates, like me, to fight and stand for child protection and justice against commercial sexual exploitation of our children! It became our call for humanity to have compassion toward all children and for our duty bearers to have concrete actions on such disturbing acts committed against children!
Child Rights Based Policies
As a child rights advocate, I propose we take a different approach to effectively curb— if not totally eradicate— such criminal acts against children. Aside from the collaborative efforts of the existing international institutions like the United Nations to protect and provide children with opportunities to nurture and develop, we also need to work among existing regional institutions to be more effective in our transnational approach of combating commercial sexual exploitation of children. Countries need to collaborate and share resources, technology, and law enforcement technical expertise to protect children from such criminal acts. Moreover, we need to impose rigid laws to prosecute those who benefit from illegally trading children.
The European Union’s answer to address the growing number of child trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation through the Joint Action on Trafficking in Human Beings and Sexual Exploitation of Children in 2000 that collectively harmonized the definition of “trafficking” and “child sexual exploitation” among its member states was a brave move. The joint action also set out common rules for action among member states to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children as well as judicial cooperation among member states. In July 2010, the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse was enacted as another move forward in the fight against child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children in the continent.
From such example, it is effective to advocate at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to replicate such European action. ASEAN member countries should strengthen law enforcement and the implementation of child protection measures—both domestically and internationally—to address the issue of child trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.
Swedish Model Legislation: The Radical Way to Protect Children
The Swedish “Sex Purchase Law” is another proposed measure that countries can learn from. After years of policy research, the groundbreaking Swedish legislation passed a law that a) criminalizes the buying of sex, and b) decriminalized the selling of sex. Accordingly, the law officially acknowledged that prostitution of women and children is a form of (male) violence and exploitation. On a higher note, it also advanced the notion that exploiters and clients need to be punished and the victims of prostitution needed care. Another strategy provided by the law is the availability of the comprehensive social service funds that allowed victims of prostitution to have a renewed hope in life.
While countries like the Philippines are struggling to curb the illegal trade of women and children, Sweden’s radical approach, according to officials, has dramatically reduced the demand for prostitutes especially children and reshaped attitudes toward the sex trade. Now, reflecting on the Swedish model legislation, I believe that such would be very much applicable in countries like the Philippines where the issues of women and child prostitution evidently exist. At first, it would seem like the idea of “having the first human beings on the moon,” but it is possible!
It Takes a Community to Raise a Child
It is also important to attack the issue at the community level. I suggest that community stakeholders should collaborate to provide children with opportunities to grow and become better global citizens that contribute to their communities.
Moreover, schools, churches and community councils including the children and their parents should be engaged at all levels of advocacy on child trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. Making them aware that engaging in commercial sexual exploitation would not help end poverty; instead it destroys the child’s future dreams and aspirations! Eventually, more partners become local champions to advocate for the dignity of every child!
Educate to Liberate!
Parallel to such policy and advocacy initiatives, basic education should be made available to all children especially among girls so that they may reach their maximum potential and make better-informed choices. Based on my work experiences for World Vision’s Child Labor Education Project in the Philippines, having access to quality education liberates children from the chronic cycle of poverty and exploitation.
Furthermore, education empowers children to engage the entire community to advocate on the importance of education and on the harmful effects of commercial sexual exploitation of children. It inspires children to lead and participate on these issues that affect them directly. Education engages them to become agents of change in their communities.
A Call for Action
Despite all the efforts that the global community has imposed, I still believe that little has been done to genuinely protect our children from commercial sexual exploitation. Every day the number of child victims that fall into the trap of exploiters is increasing.
Although it has been more than two decades since the day when Rosario died, I feel that her soul is still searching for justice for herself and the other exploited children who are being deprived of basic human rights. If she was only alive today, all she would be asking is our humanity to stand for the dignity of every child around the world regardless of her or his background in life. Her soul is yearning that all children be freed from exploitation and deprivation of their basic human rights through policy, advocacy, and access to basic education!
Rosario’s plea is a similar plea of all other commercially sexually exploited children around the globe. They are pleading for our help as duty bearers. Thus, it is our responsibility to act and end such atrocities committed against our children now!