FOR about four decades now, prostituted women have climbed ships docked at the ports of Davao. These women are called akyat barko girls, which means ship-climbing girls.
Talikala, an organization in Davao that gives support, advice, training and counseling to women and girls forced into the sex trade, estimates that there are between 300 and 400 akyat barko girls, most of them with only high school or elementary education and ages ranging from 13 to 26.
The girls frequent the ports of Sasa, Panabo, Tagum and Tefasco where they find customers among Russian, Korean, Chinese, Australian, Bangladeshi, Greek, Taiwanese, Sri Lankan, Indonesian and Honduran maritime workers, Talikala Executive Director Jeanette Ampog said.
The akyat barko girls originally hailed from neighboring provinces. Some now live near the port areas of Barangays Sasa, Tibungco, Panacan and 76-A.
Poverty drove the women to the profession, said Ampog. While some clients are generous, others are known to withhold payment. Some of the women get beaten up and slapped by customers. Sexual abuses such as rape and being forced to perform sexual acts and have multiple sex partners have also been reported.
Last November, a group of journalists went to Barangay Parola, a community near the Sasa Wharf, Davao International Port to interview akyat barko girls. The journalists who participated in a multimedia workshop conducted by VERA Files and supported by the Canadian Embassy tell the stories of the akyat barko girls in sounds and images.
Amiel Mark Cagayan is a photographer and production staff of Oblate Communications Philippines’ i-WATCH of the San Isidro Labrador Parish in Upi, Shariff Kabunsuan.
CJ Kuizon is a staff writer of Davao Today, an online news service that publishes breaking news, features and special reports about Mindanao.
Joan Mae Soco-Bantayan is a columnist of the Mindanao Times, the oldest newspaper in Mindanao.
Hector Minoza is a photojournalist of the Mindanao Bulletin, a weekly community newspaper in General Santos City. He maintains heckynomic.com, a personal blog that showcases his photos.
Karlos Manlupig is a freelance photographer writer who contributes to various publications.
Bong Sarmiento has been a correspondent for regional and national news organizations for the past 10 years. He is a reporter of MindaNews.