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Ministering the “Prostituted”

“So what we did first was put up a center where these young girls manage unwanted pregnancies that the fathers will not know."

Fr. Heinz Kulüke, SVD

Fr. Heinz Kulüke, SVD, said it was a shocking experience for him during the first three years when some prostituted women died due to late abortions after customers demanded no use of condoms.

That’s when Kulüke’s group realized, in the process, that they needed to level up their intervention. “So what we did first was put up a center where these young girls manage unwanted pregnancies that the fathers will not know,” Father  Kulüke said in an interview with Radio Veritas Asia on November 30, 2023.

Kulüke’ said that the individuals behind the prostitution industry heavily invested in the girls, leading to their enslavement through substantial loans from pimps and brothel owners. The whole business was so miserable that they took the girls, and after delivering babies, they kept them to help recover from diseases that went with prostitution.

To be more responsive, the ministers turned the center into one for recovery and had a place “where they could wash, talk, have their medical needs attended to, and even get food.”

At least eight drop-in centers housed almost 500 prostituted women. There are many police raids in the red-light district, so the ministers would keep track of the girls.

Kulüke said they made a map of the whole city of Cebu for the co-workers and volunteers to check on every street to see if there were nightclubs for “extra services.”  An estimated 10,000 women were involved in prostitution, with a reported 40% involvement in gang violence.

It is crucial to implement preventive intervention before the girls become infected with sexual diseases or are trafficked or sold to other places like Manila or neighboring Asian countries.

Before becoming a waste hunter and a former superior general of the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD), Father Heinz Kulüke was a professor of philosophy and advocated for the plight of the orphaned children of Cebu, located in the southern region of the Philippines.

Recruiters target girls from their school areas, such as Mindanao or an impoverished farming village. The recruiter capitalizes on the poverty of a family, usually with several children, and offers work for all daughters in the city, with a “money promise” to receive every month.

After some hesitation, the family finally agreed to hand over their daughter to someone at the bus station.

At the bus station, another recruiter would take the girl to the pier to take her by boat to Cebu or the airport by plane. “So what we found out is that you have to warn these people,... and the project (is) still going on over about 12 years..”.

People would laugh at  Kulüke and company for what they are doing, like getting into the red-light district. “The next day I would hear confessions that they use minors in the red-light district,” said the priest.

His group also holds seminars and workshops for stakeholders on human trafficking and has a big project with the European Union to address prostitution.

“The first abuse usually starts at home—with uncles, brothers, fathers, and often, girls end up in the red-light district,” said  Kulüke.

Due to the potential dangers involved, there are times when there is a shortage of volunteers for the ministry. In such cases, his group would accompany the police during the raids. Other factors that complicate the issue include the presence of illegal drugs, the limited availability of competent lawyers, bribery by judges, and the emotional impact on children witnessing their parents' arrest.

Kulüke stated that lifestyle changes would occur in poor villages where people engage in prostitution. “So they would have a car in front of the house, a bicycle, and appliances..."  During the pandemic, the nightclubs closed, but internet transactions saw an increase in clients due to minimal regulation.

Reflections on the Ministry
Kulüke's background in philosophy enables him to be concerned about how prostitution exploits and abuses young women and minors, and how poverty and consumerism contribute to this social issue in the country.

“There are situations in moral theology (when) we have to look at the lesson—the need to protect minors from getting pregnant, which may be the greater evil."

Fr. Heinz Kulüke, SVD

People are taking advantage of the vulnerability. "Catholics are involved like anybody else. Many of our brothel owners are graduates of Catholic institutions...Jesus picks up the sinner in the eyes of society.. We remember the Beatitudes that we can practice in places like the Red Light every day where the poor can be found …  where you also get tired ..,” said the priest.

On giving condoms despite a contrary law of the Church,  Kulüke told the story of a 10-year-old girl who would most likely be infected with HIV-AIDS and where you have the choice to give a condom for minimum protection.

“There are situations in moral theology (when) we have to look at the lesson—the need to protect minors from getting pregnant, which may be the greater evil,” he said.

To fellow ministers, Kulüke said, “Don't give up whatever happens.. (this may be) the most difficult mission among missions because you will be judged, you will be condemned... Compassion is the key issue.”

He said the issue is for all religions “to understand  (why) victims end up the way they are living at this point... Give people a chance;  many girls have been rehabilitated and are trying to start a new life.”

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