Thursday, May 15, 2008

God Bless the Children

Bloggers Unite

Today, May 15, 2008, Bloggers Unite in a project that aims to harness the power of the blogosphere "to help elevate human rights by drawing attention to the challenges and successes of human rights issues." Take up the challenge. Blog about it.

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"The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development."

- Principle 9, Declaration of the Rights of a Child

To all Manila citizens, they are a ubiquitous sight - knocking on windows, peddling their wares. Rain or shine, night or day, they dart among cars stalled in traffic, knocking on windows with winsome smiles and wistful eyes. We have become so used to seeing them that we take for granted that, by virtue of who they are, they should not even be there at all.


Several years ago, as a college student researching for an article for the school paper, I had a glimpse of what some of these children's lives were like. My two interviewees were both flower vendors, both below twelve years old and small for their age.

Their typical day would consist of going to school early in the mornings until noon. Once home from school, they would help their mother and the other women of their community prepare the strings of sampaguita they were to sell in the evenings. After dinner, the girls would walk down the length of East Avenue to Quezon Avenue, most of the time staying out until past midnight until all their flowers had been sold.

As heartbreaking as their story was to me even then, I realize now that these two little girls were among the lucky ones.

Street children continue to be a major problem in the Philippines. Whether they are children working to augment their meager family incomes or children who have been abandoned and survive only through their own wiles, their numbers continue to swell to the hundreds of thousands around the country and are growing every day.

Instead of being accorded with protection and nurturing that is their right, in their young age they confront the harsh realities of the urban jungle. Undernourished, exposed to possible physical and sexual abuse, violence, and substance abuse, with no opportunities for education, and no moral guidance apart from the law of the streets, these children live on the edge of a very high precipice - over which many of them inevitably fall.

Innocence should be but an empty word to these children made to grow old before their time. Yet their resilience wins over the meanness that they encounter on the streets, and the joy and ebullience of childhood sometimes shines through. They are not beyond redemption.

Fortunately there are many organizations and kindhearted individuals who take up the cause of these lost children. Some provide shelters for the homeless, where volunteers take care of nourishing these children physically, mentally, and spiritually. These people help the kids reclaim their lost childhood and give them hope for a better life off the streets. However, despite these small victories, the enormity of the problem remains.

The challenge is for us to learn to see these children in a different light - and to shake off our matter-of-fact acceptance of their existence. The challenge is for us to realize that these children deserve to have a real childhood, the same kind of childhood we were blessed with. The challenge is to realize that our responsibility to uphold and defend the rights of each child extends to these desperate children of the streets, who have nowhere else to turn.

They are, after all, children, too.

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Among those already doing the work (and whom we can volunteer with):
Childhope Asia Philippines
He Cares Foundation
Child Protection in the Philippines


For more eye opening fare on Child Labor in the Philippines, try to find a copy of the heart-rending documentary "Minsan Lang Sila Bata" ("Children only once").

6 comments:

Vanessa said...

Thank you for a wonderful post shining a light on a very important issue. This is so sad and all children deserve a chance to be just that, a child.

dr_clairebear said...

i think what's even sadder is that many of us, the ones who see them every day and are used to them, lose to capacity to be moved by their plight. i hope that someday it really will be possible to provide ALL children with a bright future.

Lester Cavestany said...

Street children continue to be a major problem in the Philippines, I agree. But somehow I feel that this is misleading. For me, it's better to say, "Street children continue to be a major problem in Metro Manila (and major cities) in the Philippines"

I think that the issue of street children is a minor problem in the country. The greater majority of our children are not in Metro Manila and they are not in the streets.

Having said that, I totally agree that we should do what we can to help the street children. Urban poverty is something we should really address because it's closer to home.

Thanks :-)

dr_clairebear said...

hi, lester! thank you for passing by my blog. :)

i suppose you contention that this is not really a "major" problem is valid if taken into the perspective of the other problems that currently plague us. however, the numbers cannot be denied:

* There are 1.5 million streetchildren. DSWD estimates that this number increases annually by 6,365.

* Of the 1.5 million streetchildren, 60,000 are prostituted (ECPAT 1996). The DSWD claims that the annual average increase of prostituted children is 3,266. The Philippines is the fourth country with the most number of prostituted children (Intersect, December 1995).

personally, given those statistics, i still am of the opinion that my statement is not that misleading at all.

however, these children are but a fraction of the even bigger proportion of Filipino children who are child laborers - in farms, in factories - who we do not see in the streets and other children who because of poverty are living in neglect.

(you can access the rest of the statistics over here.
Thank you very much for taking the time to leave a comment!

bingskee said...

it makes me feel helpless as they are every time i see them. you can almost feel the hurt and the pain behind the smiles.

how i wish that something could be done...

thank you this eye-opener. very true that we become very used to this scenario that sometimes we tend to ignore than sympathize.

Dave Donelson said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this important human rights issue. As the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds us, “…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds