Welcome House in Cebu, Philippines

Women and children at risk of trafficking receive a warm Welcome

The Challenges

In the Philippines, human trafficking for sexual exploitation affects both sexes, however it is especially prevalent among young women and girls.  Factors that cause women and girls to be vulnerable to traffickers include: poverty, lack of employment, dysfunctional family, materialism, adventurism, peer influence, cultural factors, gender issues and lack of information.

In Cebu City, usually trafficking victims come from rural areas, big and poor families.  Cebu is a major destination of international and domestic trafficking of children, aged from 11 to 17 years old (Ecpat International).  Cebu may be a source area, a transit for trafficked victims and also a destination.  This is because of its strategic location and the existence of modern facilities such as airports, seaports and land-based terminals.  

Despite existing laws, prostitution is a serious problem in Cebu City. About 10,000 women work as prostitutes; half of them are underage. Their customers are businessmen, sailors, students, construction workers and tourists. While the girls receive only a small allowance with which they can hardly pay two meals a day, pimps and brothel managers gain the lion’s share. 

Due to unwanted pregnancies, many of the girls have had repeated abortions. Others suffer from illnesses and are HIV-positive. Drug and alcohol abuse often worsens their situation. Without professional help, it is almost impossible for the girls to quit their jobs in the red light district. To provide this support and to offer professional care to the girls, well-run rehabilitation and drop in centers are necessary. These should offer a place to stay where the girls feel protected. Other help is difficult to find as many police may lack sufficient training and corruption is common. 

One of the reasons why the girls find themselves in such a difficult situation is that about 40 percent of the inhabitants of the Philippines have to live on one dollar a day. Families living in island groups such as Mindanao are especially poor. Here the work of human traffickers is particularly easy. The promise of work as waitress or domestic worker lures many who are then forced into sex work.  

The Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia to enact a law against child abuse. This law defines every prostitute under 18 as a victim of abuse. However, prostitution is still common and the police and local authorities are often involved in it. Furthermore, prostitution is a taboo that is often deliberately overlooked.

What did the Sisters do?

In February 2007, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd established the Welcome House.  This drop-in shelter is a welcoming, caring and therapeutic environment for women and children in need of food, rest, and a place for reflection to recognize and consider the possibility of alternative life choices. 

The project goal is to contribute to the fight against human trafficking and prostitution. In order to do this, it aims to support women working in prostitution who want to quit their jobs as sex workers and to raise public awareness of the problem of human trafficking.

Who benefits and how do they benefit?

There are four major programmes:

Outreach Programme

Every night the outreach team is at work.  It is composed of 1 outreach worker, 3 volunteers and 20 peer educators.  Peer educators are those girls and women who are still active in prostitution but willing to help other women to avail of the center’s services while they are still discerning what to do with their lives.  Activities undertaken include: self-awareness sessions, and other relevant topics to help them understand the effects of human trafficking; referral to clinics and hospital for those who are sick and pregnant; facilitation for conduct of “hygiene/gram staining” at the City Health Department and provision of outdoor activities such as swimming, visits to places of worships, cultural sites and other places which will offer the women and girls opportunities for alternative thinking.

Shelter Care

Shelter care, medical assistance, food, clothing, personal care and grooming, transportation assistance, psychological assessment, job readiness training, skills acquisition, and referral to other agencies are provided to girls and women who are considering ceasing prostitution and accessing a longer rehabilitation process.  These girls and women can stay at the center from 2 weeks up to 1 month for processing and initial case management before referral to Good Shepherd Recovery Center for long-term intervention. At any given time, the center serves at least 10-15 girls and women.

After Care

After undergoing the entire process of recovery at Good Shepherd Recovery Center, clients will utilize after care service as a part of reintegration process.  This includes: Skills training/economic life skills; Vocational Course; Formal and non-formal education; Referrals for Job placement; Networking and linkage with agencies supportive to women, and Provision of capital assistance to  support income generating projects, if appropriate. 


Raising awareness of certain sectors in society in order to heighten public knowledge about human trafficking is the most economical and effective strategy for prevention.  Engagement with 5 communities and 8 public secondary schools for this program is achieved.  Activities in schools include: Raising awareness of teachers, students and parents on Human trafficking through lectures, seminar, theater art presentation, commemoration of special events like Human Rights Day, Women’s Day and Month to raise student awareness.  To sustain the advocacy project in school, students are organized as peer educators and they become the speakers group in the school.

Advocacy activities include:   Lobbying and projects to raise awareness of human trafficking and prostitution at the community level; Measures against human trafficking are laid down in local ordinance; Assistance to implement local ordinance; Conducting workshops, film showings and educational campaigns to raise awareness within the community.

Who manages/administers the programme?

A Good Shepherd Sister manages the programme with a social worker who is also a Mission Partner. Other staff: an advocacy officer, shelter care officer, outreach officer, psychologist, bookkeeper, monitoring and evaluation officer and two full time US Peace Corps volunteers. 

Who is the major target group?

Women and children who are victims of sex trafficking and prostitution.

  1. Women and children victims of prostitution and human trafficking aged from 11-40 years old.

  2. Victims of human trafficking and prostitution are admitted regardless of race, religion or economic status.

  3. All eligible women and girl children are provided with appropriate services offered by the center.

Motivation and Core Values

  • Uphold the rights of the girls and women who are victims of human trafficking and prostitution.

  • Restore personal dignity to clients who are in need of healing and reconciliation.

  • Provide opportunities for women and children to experience healing, empowerment and integral transformation.  

How is the programme evaluated?

  • Many of the girls and women come back after their engagement with the center.

  • They have participated in the activities and availed themselves of the services and programs offered by the center.

  • After receiving the services many have successfully quit prostitution and reintegrated back to their families or referred to Recovery Center.


Women's voices heard in sex trafficking research - Sister Angela Reed, Australian Sister of Mercy