The Philippines is well-known for exporting domestic workers across the world, but as low-income jobs disappear in the global recession, increasing numbers of desperate Filipinos are resorting to something much more dangerous – smuggling drugs as mules.
And more are getting caught. Over 690 Filipinos are currently sitting in jails around the world on drug offences, 227 in China alone. Of these, data shows there are 85 currently facing death row from drug-related crimes, and more and more of them are women.
Authorities say international drug syndicates have been specifically targeting Filipino women to traffic drugs, with dramatic increases in the numbers of convicted female drug mules in the last few years.
The women are paid between $500 and $5,000 to swallow tubes containing the drugs, carry them hidden in their luggage or even dissolved and soaked into paper or books.
Labour rights groups say these women are victims of poverty. One in four Filipinos lives on less than $1 a day and one-tenth of the population work abroad to send money home to support their families.
Today, the illegal drug trade in the Philippines has evolved into a lucrative industry, valued at over $8.4bn.