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.
"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.
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").