Looking back: First anti-trafficking law in Southeast Asia

MANILA, Philippines – Did you know that the Philippines is the first country to legislate an anti-trafficking law in the ASEAN region?

On this day 12 years ago, the Philippines enacted Republic Act 9208 or the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2003 – becoming the first Southeast Asian country to pass a penal law that would serve as refuge for trafficked persons. 

This law aims “to promote human dignity, protect the people from any threat of violence and exploitation, and mitigate pressures for involuntary migration and servitude of persons, not only to support trafficked persons but more importantly, to ensure their recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration into the mainstream of society.”

Acts of trafficking include sex tourism, sex slavery, prostitution, pornography and those under the pretense of arranged marriage, adoption, or the recruitment of children in armed conflict. 

It imposes a penalty of 6 years to life imprisonment or a fine of from P500,000 to P2 million, depending on the act committed.

How has the current government fared in implementing this law? Data from the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT) show that convictions on the basis of RA 9208 increased under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III.

Aquino even signed in 2013 Republic Act 10364 or the "Expanded Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2012,” which amended the list of acts considered as promoting human trafficking, and increased funding for government agencies involved in the fight against human trafficking.

But despite this, the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report of the United States (US) State Department said the Philippines' "overall number of convictions remained low compared to the size of the problem." (READ: Human trafficking convictions: How has government fared?)

In the ASEAN region

What about our neighboring countries? Here is a list of ASEAN countries with dates on when they approved laws against trafficking in persons:

Despite not having an approved law just yet, Laos has been making progress, according to a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. In May 2012, there have been plans for an assessment of an anti-human trafficking law in Laos in association with UNODC and the United States. 

Also, every year, the TIP report ranks countries into one out of 4 tiers in accordance with their governments’ compliance with trafficking laws. Tier 1 is the highest ranking.

Most ASEAN nations (except Brunei Darussalam and Singapore) are signatories to the Palermo Protocol. Implemented in 2000, the Palermo Protocol was the United Nations’ first step to raise human trafficking awareness on an international scale also intended to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

The region currently faces a massive issue of human trafficking, among other issues, along with the Rohingya crisis. (READ: The 'ASEAN way' and the Rohingya crisis)

A report by the Heritage Foundation said that ASEAN should play a more significant role in preventing human trafficking in the region "by encouraging regional intelligence and information sharing and holding joint law enforcement exercises that target organized criminal activities, including human trafficking, drug trafficking, and money laundering."

If you want to get involved, here's how:

– Rappler.com

Janina Lim is a Rappler intern