AUTHORITIES in the Philippines are on the alert for an alarming trend of underage Filipinas attempting to leave the country with forged passports and travel documents to work abroad.
According to immigration, officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) have caught a total of 114 girls aged below 21 years old since June.
Immigration Deputy Commissioner and Port Operations Division chief Marc Red Mariña said in the same month, officials also barred 67 people from leaving the country after they confessed to being minors, The Inquirer reported.
All the travellers carried passports that showed they were of adult age, the official said. They even possessed valid working visas, employment permits and contracts.
“It is evident that these young women were victimised by syndicates that specialise in the procurement of documents to make it appear that they are old enough to work abroad,” he was quoted as saying.
The Bureau of Immigration’s revelation comes after a series of raids that led to the rescue of dozens of women who were illegally recruited from the country’s impoverished southern region.
In July, police said some of the 40 women rescued were minors recruited in Mindanao to work as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.
On Aug 2, authorities stopped four girls who were attempting to depart for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to work as household maids in the middle eastern country. The girls were later handed over to the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking.
Rights abuses and foreign policy
The influx of young workers attempting to go abroad has raised the government’s concerns as rights groups have extensively documented abuses of migrant domestic workers in Middle Eastern countries.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch said many employers in Kuwait confiscate domestic workers’ passports, forcing them to work excessively long hours without days off, and in some cases, physically and sexually assault them.
In April, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a permanent ban on the deployment of Filipino migrant workers to Kuwait in wake of a string of deaths, including Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer.
The ban sparked a diplomatic row which ended after both countries signed a pact ensuring the protection of the workers in the Gulf state.
Duterte has since maintained that the Southeast Asian country’s foreign policy on Filipino migrant workers is considered a priority.
“You (Filipino migrant workers) epitomise the innate resilience of the nation. You have shown your willingness to toil and sacrifice day in and day out for the long-term good of your family and loved ones,” Duterte told the workers during an address in July.
“I am a worker of government and it is my vow to make sure that your well-being remains our foremost foreign policy concern,” he said.