Saint Patrick escaped slavery and freed thousands

by Fr. Shay Cullen

| Photo by Pascal Bernardon on Unsplash

Christians and Irish people worldwide will celebrate today, March 17, the life, words, and deeds of a great man of courage, authentic Christian faith, and a man of action, Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, yet he was not even Irish. He was kidnapped by non-Christian human traffickers around the year 410 across the Irish Sea in Wales. He was brought to Ireland as a child slave worker and forced to guard cattle and goats.

He learned to speak Irish, and after six years of slavery, he made his escape. He traveled from the North to the South of Ireland and traveled to the continent by boat, likely working for his passage. From there, he made it back to Wales. That was a brave journey to freedom for a 22-year-old.

This week is the celebration of “My Freedom,” an international campaign against child labor promoted by CNN. Last January 17 was the Global March Against Child Labor. There are an estimated 160 million child workers in the world today, 79 million of whom are doing dangerous tasks, according to a UN report.

Child workers receive little or no education and earn a pittance, or they are usually unpaid and work for food. Child sexual exploitation is the most dangerous of all. It damages the personality, deprives the child of value, and destroys human dignity. It hurts and damages the child’s mind and spirit and robs the victim of identity. The children are exposed to diseases and physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by traffickers and pedophiles.

The Preda Foundation, based in Olongapo City, is combating child trafficking by holding almost daily training seminars against child labor, abuse, and human trafficking of children. The participants are students, teachers, and village or barangay leaders.

Visiting groups of college students from Japan, Australia, and Philippine universities come to visit and receive training to become active child rights advocates and defenders. The UK Embassy in Manila partly funds this educational and training service. The purpose is to educate and sensitize the people and youth and to inspire and encourage them to make combating child labor their mission in life.

The Preda Foundation has, over the years, freed dozens of child victims of human trafficking for sex abuse. This evil practice was allowed to thrive with impunity by uncaring officials for many decades until recent years when stringent anti-trafficking in-person laws were enacted to save the children and bring the traffickers to trial. However, law enforcement is struggling to identify, arrest and convict traffickers. The United States Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report for 2023 says Philippine courts convicted only 86 traffickers – 83 for sex trafficking and three for forced labor nationwide.

The testimony in court of the rescued children at Preda home convicts an average of 20 child abusers every year. Most of the convicted offenders received life in prison sentences. The foundation lobbies for new laws to protect children, like the law that raised the age of consent law. The new law passed in March 2022 makes sexual intercourse with a child 16 and younger statutory rape. Before 2022, it was 12 years of age. The legal age of a child is 18 years.

Children are trafficked for sexual abuse at an early age. Take Daisy (not her real name), a 14-year-old school dropout from Subic, Zambales. She spent all her time on her mobile phone. There, she made contact with an adult called Stephi, a human trafficker.

“A research study by the International Justice Mission (IJM) into child trafficking for online child sexual abuse found that almost half a million Filipino children in 2022 were videoed and abused on live-streaming sex shows for the sexual gratification of online foreign pedophiles. “

The trafficker persuaded Daisy to become a child sex worker with foreigners in Subic to earn a lot of money and to recruit another child as a sex worker. Daisy got a 12-year-old, Alicia (not her real name), to join her. Stephi introduced them to Roy, a foreign sex tourist, and some other abusers not identified.

Daisy was abused three times, and Alisia was raped at least once by a male sex tourist. By chance, the local barangay officials picked them up for breaking the curfew ordinance, and the children disclosed they were minors and victims of abuse. They were referred to the municipal social worker and then to the Preda home for protection and help.

Daisy later revealed that her three close relatives were working together with Stephi, running a money-making human trafficking and extortion scam targeting foreign sex tourists.

They were using Daisy and Alicia as bait for black-mailing the foreign sex tourists when they abused the children by threatening to file charges against them unless they paid large sums of money. The children are now safe at Preda, but the police are still investigating the human trafficking scam, and the foreign suspect named Roy has not yet been arrested. Such crimes against children are widespread. The worst aspect of the crime is that young children are convinced by the traffickers, parents, and other relatives that they are just good enough as sex workers for the rest of their lives.

Daisy was trained by Stephi, her online trafficker, to be a recruiter and to recruit other minors like Alicia. These child victims were controlled and persuaded by the criminals not to file criminal complaints against their trafficking friends like Stephi and their relatives. They are afraid to file cases against their male abusers from whom they stole money. One foreign child sex abuser complained to the police that 14-year-old Daisy stole his money after he sexually abused her. He has not been arrested yet. The children fear they will be counter-charged with theft. They believe that life as a sex worker is normal. How to persuade these child victims otherwise is the big challenge.

A research study by the International Justice Mission (IJM) into child trafficking for online child sexual abuse found that almost half a million Filipino children in 2022 were videoed and abused on live-streaming sex shows for the sexual gratification of online foreign pedophiles. The IJM study found that one child in every 100 was a victim. The number of perpetrators was nearly half a million Filipinos.

Every one of us must be aware of this crime of child trafficking and persuade law enforcement to take it seriously and save the children.

After he escaped from slavery, Patrick, the boy enslaved person, became a man, a priest, and a missionary to Ireland. He persuaded the non-Christian kings, leaders, and the people to believe in human dignity and justice and to end slavery, and they did. He saved thousands of enslaved people, and we can do so, too.

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