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Philippines: Girls as a Commodity

Matilde Simas | Manila, Philippines, Philippines

Organization: Capture Humanity

A young girl who was one of a group of girls intercepted at the Manila Airport just before they were about to board a flight to Saudi Arabia. The paying jobs they had been promised were actually domestic slavery.

As part of my long-term documentary work examining different forms of human trafficking, “Philippines: Girls as a Commodity” sheds light on the plight of children who are sold into domestic servitude and the cybersex trade in the Philippines. Through real-time photo capture and portraiture, the project documents the daily lives of rescued Filipino girls living in a non-governmental organization (NGO) long-term living facility where they are receiving psychological services, education, life skills lessons, legal protections, advocacy support, and engaging in group wellness activities.  In creating this body of work, my hope was to listen and offer the survivors my unwavering focus and attention.

There are over 40 million slaves in the world today, bringing slaveholders and traffickers an estimated income of $150 billion annually. With high profits and low risk, the buying and selling of human beings has become the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world. In the Philippines, children are lured into domestic servitude and the cybersex trade by human traffickers who deceive them into believing that they will be given access to a better life. 


As a result of this project I learned victims of trafficking are left to endure irreversible psychological damage as a result of their trauma. The non-governmental organization (NGO) works to provide specialized, trauma - informed care for trafficked humans. While in the care of this NGO, survivors can practice a holistic victim care approach that ensures victim-witness protection and successful social reintegration. At the NGO's long-term living facility, survivors are given time and space to heal, and peer counseling is presented as a choice but not required. Once ready, they are empowered with equal authority status to help run daily operations and share responsibilities.

Despite the immense trauma that these survivors endured and their fear of repercussions, many were eager to take part in this project. The survivors explained that they don’t want to be forgotten — they want everyone to know what happened to them. Being able to tell their own stories and take control of the narrative was incredibly powerful and ideally helped them to come to terms with their experiences.

The sequence of images begin with heartache but as the viewer advances through the images they begin to disclose progression and positive evolution. While not always visible, the girls' images reveal there is necessary work entailed in their recovery process. The last image tells the story of a survivor taking her power back reclaiming her power and evolving into a Subject Matter Expert, by informing and educating the public about human trafficking, and taking back the life others sought and failed to rob her of.

Matilde Simas



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