Can you call me Princessa?

I was sitting on the floor. It’s a wrap. We are done for the day.  I was mentally and physically ready to leave the place.

I was busy packing up my gear, when a small body slid onto my lap. She smiled and asked, “Can you please help me tie my hair?”

She has beautiful long wavy hair and a pair of bright brown eyes that would stay with me long after our encounter that day.

I smiled and started combing her hair.

“Can you also call me princessa?” she asked

My fingers froze mid air.

“Please?”

“Of course little princessa.” I said awkwardly. “Is that good?”

She turned to look at me and gave me a big hug I hadn’t expected.

“My mommy used to call me princessa when she combs my hair. I miss her”

I felt a cold stab in my heart and I just hugged her back. My brain is scrambling for words that can make her feel better. Something that can soothe the desperate longing in this little girl. But I found nothing.

What can you say to an 8 year old who had been sold online by the mother she so missed to perform sexual acts for middle aged men somewhere on the other side of the world?

What can you say to a little girl who sees the shelter that she is in now as a prison — a punishment for what she had done instead of a safe place from the people who are suppose to love her?

Her mother had been arrested for selling this little girl. Her mother is now sitting behind bars awaiting trials for her actions. And according to the law in the Philippines, this means, the little girl has to stay in the government run shelter until a sentence had been delivered and her fate will be decided by the state.

and she is not the only one.

The Philippines is rampant with online sexual exploitation just like this one.  The victims are children from as young as 3 years old. The customers are from all over the world. Anyone with an internet connection and USD 20 to spare.

That’s all it took to rip a child of her childhood.

My thoughts wandered to my own little girls at home and how their skin feels against mine. I thought of how much I love smelling them, and how much I enjoy hugging them.

Maybe her mom also feels the same way about this little girl?  Was the economic pressure really that hard that it overrides her basic instinct as a mother?

A year on, I still cannot figure it out. Putting it down in words also still gave me a visceral reaction.

But her story needs to be told.

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