Underage girls trafficked to Syria via ‘baklas passport’

UNDERAGE girls from Mindanao, some as young as 14, were being sent to Syria using tampered passports under a scheme hatched by unscrupulous recruiters and immigration officers, a Senate committee learned, as it peeled a new layer in the insidious trafficking of young women to the war-torn nation.Sen Risa Hontiveros, chair of the Senate women and children committee, presented video clips on Tuesday of three women who recounted their experiences being trafficked to Damascus as minors through a “baklas passport”, in which their names and birth dates were forged so that they could leave the Philippines unchecked.

Following earlier testimonies of other victims, “we have found an even more disgusting phenomenon: Minors as young as 14 being trafficked to Syria, ” the senator said.

She gave aliases to the girls – “Omaima” of Cotabato, and “Aleah” and “Lenlen”, both from Maguindanao – to protect their identities.

Omaima and Aleah were recruited in 2008 as minors, while Lenlen was recruited in 2018. The three were only able to return to the Philippines last year.

Lenlen, the youngest of the three, was just 14 when her recruiter told her to line up for a passport at the Department of Foreign Affairs Cotabato office.

While her birth certificate showed that she was born on Sept 7,2004, the birth date on the passport was Aug 17,1994.

The witness said it was her recruiter who had applied for the passport on her behalf.

“Why then did the DFA give her a fake passport?” Hontiveros said, noting that similar testimonies from Omaima and Aleah showed an apparent pattern.

“Is there a government official colluding with human trafficking criminals? We hope not. If they are not part of this arrangement, the DFA should clarify and explain.

“The breadth and depth of this revolting issue is one that we should take seriously. As if exploiting our women is not enough, unscrupulous recruiters and human traffickers are also manipulating and abusing our children, ” Hontiveros lamented.

During the hearing, whistleblower Alex Chiong also confirmed that corrupt Bureau of Immigration officers had a chat group with a list of names of women to be trafficked out of country. — Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN

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