Attorney from Philippines fights human trafficking through law and undercover work

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: Aug 16, 2016

Mia Andal Castro
Mia Andal Castro

In the aftermath of natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines in 2013 killing more than 8,000 people, another national disaster occurs, according to attorney Mia Andal Castro. The second disaster is the fate of the children.

“When you see natural disasters, the most vulnerable people are the children,” said Castro, who is the Philippines managing director of the Consuelo Foundation.  She recently addressed a large audience at the William S. Richardson School of Law during a discussion on human trafficking and the work of the Foundation to protect women and children.

The Law School, Filipino Community Center and Hawai’i Filipino Lawyers Association sponsored her talk.

“It's during times of disaster when the traffickers prey on the children,” said Castro, describing how children are easily lured to accept “help,” not realizing that they’re being sold into prostitution by human traffickers.

But natural disasters are only one part of a $32 billion underground criminal network surpassed in monetary value only by arms smuggling and narcotics trafficking, said Castro. Globally more than 2.5 million people are victims of human trafficking, a crime that often capitalizes on the hopes of poverty-stricken people who long to help get their families out of poverty, she said.

As an attorney who worked for the Manila International Justice Commission before joining Consuelo Foundation, Castro went undercover to rescue young victims and then to prosecute their traffickers. Her work with the Foundation carries on this mission through its programs that help victims reclaim their lives.

“Human traffickers would go out to far-flung areas to entice young girls to apply for jobs in the big cities as waitresses or clerks and convince them that this is their ticket out of poverty,” she said. “It’s not uncommon to have a relative who has migrated, and if someone comes and is introduced by someone they know, they would fall for it. Over and over again these girls fell into this trap – not knowing they had been sold already. They end up in bars, prostitution dens, brothels, (sometimes) deeply brainwashed by their pimps, with some even groomed to be the next traffickers.”

Castro said that victims trafficked in the Philippines may also end up being sent abroad, making them much more difficult to rescue.

The Consuelo Foundation has already spent more than $75 million in programs that have helped 400,000 women and children in the Philippines. Some have been victims of trafficking, and others have received training for jobs that offer hope for the future.

But the challenges continue. Many areas of the Philippines are still not meeting even the most basic needs of the people, a situation that increases the vulnerability of those who live there. Castro also discovered corruption in the court system as her agency attempted to bring traffickers to justice. On one heartbreaking occasion, a child was kidnapped in front of the courthouse, and the child’s advocates were powerless to intervene.

But a new kind of criminal enforcement is making a dent in catching online trafficking, said Castro. International law enforcement is cooperating to create “virtual” webcam people enabling enforcement agencies to track traffickers and their customers online. Already a number of countries have moved to arrest and prosecute numerous perpetrators through such “sting” operations.

“There are success stories,” said Castro, “but also many painful stories. This goes beyond just helping one child, but trying to incorporate ways the victims can be protected."

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