Illegal recruiters in the Philippines are now targeting minors and are taking advantage of the prevalent poverty in the country to convince them to work abroad.
In 2018, the Bureau of Immigration said that that there were 28,000 victims of illegal recruitment agencies who were rescued at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). From this number, 150 are minors, reported GMA News.
The case of Fatima
Among the victims was 16-year-old Fatima who was offered a job in Saudi Arabia with a monthly salary of Php30,000.
The illegal recruiters also told Fatima that all expenses will be free. “Sabi niya po, gusto ko daw ba mag-abroad. Lahat libre,” Fatima said.
Before boarding her flight to Saudi, however, Fatima was put on hold by the immigration after it was discovered that her passport was fake.
Illegal recruiters work as “headhunters” whose job is to look for prospect minor victims. The headhunters convince the minors to accept the offer.
Once the victim accepts the offer, they are brought to a safehouse where they are trained on how to act like they are of legal age to work abroad. They are also taught how to act inside the airport to avoid being questioned by immigration officials.
The recruiters then process the required documents for the victim to be able to work abroad such as birth certificate, passport, and overseas employment certificate (OEC).
Recruiters use the photo of the victim but provide falsified information particularly altering the name and age of the victim.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) explained that it is the applicant’s responsibility to provide the information in the birth certificate. Thus, a false information provided by a recruiter posing as a birth certificate applicant will be the information reflected on the birth certificate.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), meanwhile, said that there are indeed cases where illegal recruiters are able to apply for passports.
“Some cases, medyo advanced ‘yung forgery, medyo nahihirapan din ma-detect. But of course, aside from this we could also check based on the appearance of passport applicant and our personnel also conduct interviews,” said DFA Assistant Secretary Elmer Cato.
What the rules say
According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency’s (POEA) household service policy, the legal age for Filipinos to be allowed work as household service workers overseas is 23.
POEA said those wanting to work abroad must have emotional maturity to be able to handle the possible stress of being away from the family and dealing with a new environment.
Republic Act No. 10022, also known as the “Migrant Workers Act”, states that any person found guilty of illegal recruitment shall suffer the penalty of imprisonment of not less than twelve (12) years and one (1) day but not more than twenty (20) years and a fine of not less than One million pesos (P1,000,000.00) nor more than two million pesos (Php2,000,000.00).