In 2005, a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded an initiative in the Philippines called Project Lantern. This initiative supported the capacity of local law enforcement and the local justice system to effectively enforce the country’s anti-human trafficking law as a critical component of combatting commercial sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines. The grant also provided IJM with the funds to resource a new field office in Cebu to combat the crime.
Sex trafficking of children in the Philippines
A baseline prevalence study of commercial sex establishments in metro Cebu revealed that nearly 6% of all people sold for sex were minors. This represented hundreds of children being trafficked and abused several times a day, every day.
With this grant, IJM was able to test its model and asked, “Can under-resourced local police forces and courts effectively enforce the law against perpetrators of violence in order to protect vulnerable women and children and reduce the prevalence of sex trafficking?”
Developing the capacity of the justice system
Collaborating with local law enforcement has always been an integral component of IJM’s work. On its own, IJM does not have standing to remove child victims from criminal exploitation or to apprehend suspected perpetrators. Law enforcement is uniquely the purview of local government, and from the very beginning, the work of Project Lantern was designed to develop law enforcement capacity in the Philippines.
Over the course of five years, Project Lantern provided competency enhancement training for prosecutors, judges and court personnel, law enforcement officers, the Philippine Department of Labour and Employment, the Philippine Department of Social Welfare and Development, private aftercare providers, local governments and community organizations.
The program drafted and disseminated best practices manuals, guidebooks, training curricula and other reference materials to ensure that stakeholders had accurate and accessible information to equip their own personnel for anti-trafficking activities.
Project Lantern also inspired significant innovation in services for survivors of sex trafficking. The Reintegration Support Network was created, providing survivors with access to a safe, victim-friendly space in the community where they could receive support and services from professionals working or living nearby. Accessing the network has been shown to improve participants’ health, economic empowerment, education, psychosocial support and spiritual formation.
Key Findings and Results
Decrease in crime
Project Lantern contributed to a 72% decrease in child sex trafficking in the Cebu metro area.
Strengthened justice system
The public justice system became increasingly capable and mobilized to deter sex traffickers, while also improving its police operations, services to rescued victims and prosecution of criminals.
Equipped officers deliver results
Law enforcement activities from March 2007 to October 2010 resulted in 225 victims rescued and 87 suspected traffickers arrested.
The Philippine justice system is continuing to own and sustain the improvements gained from Project Lantern. As such, IJM was able to end its case-by-case collaboration on child trafficking in the area. The authorities now address those cases professionally and reliably on their own.
Today, because of the trust established with local officials, the Philippine government has requested continued IJM assistance to combat online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC). The crime involves children being placed before a webcam and instructed to engage in sexual activity, often directed by the purchaser, who is viewing the exploitation in real time. Investigation of the crime requires significant law enforcement capacity to secure evidence and track purchasers and exploiters around the world.