(Amid Poverty, Malnutrition, Abandonment, Sexual Exploitation And Pedophilia)
There are more than 1.8 million abandoned children in the Philippines, comprising almost one percent of the country’s total population, as per the United Nations’ Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organization.
These children are left to fend for themselves, making me think of the daily challenges and ordeals they face while trying to survive the harsh and often dangerous life in the streets or in the sprawling slums of the nation’s capital.
As a result of armed conflicts, natural disasters, growing issues of extreme poverty and neglect, many children are abandoned and majority of them have higher risks of becoming victims of crimes, exploitation, drugs and abuse. These children are also vulnerable to starvation and sickness.
Abandoned Filipino Children Feeling Hopeless Over Adoption?
The Philippines is known for its infamously negligent government-run shelters. Hence, it is really unsurprising that the UN’s Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organization reported in May of last year that the Philippines had an abandoned children problem.
Even though the Philippine government gave the responsibility to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to ensure that these children will have a home, it is sad to report that an alarming and growing amount of abandoned kids grow up alone and without parents. A May 2016 Los Angeles Times report pointed out that the country’s adoption bureaucracy might be a reason on why aspiring adoptive parents are left waiting in vain, while the abandoned children are left to fend for themselves.
What’s more tragic was when the publication highlighted the experience of Michelle Sambalilo, who was abandoned as a young child. Samalilo, who made the Manila North Cemetery her home and playground, detailed how the DSWD crushed her hope to have a family when the government agency denied her application to be adopted by an American family, all for a simple reason that her age, fifteen at the time, was “too old to be adopted.”
“My dream was to be adopted, so that someone will love me,” Sambalilo sadly said. “When I found out that I was too old to be adopted, I was really sad, because I really wanted to have a family.”
Due to this incident, the question on whether fifteen years of age is too old for adoption, sparked a debate. Sambalilo even said that the criteria when it comes to the ages of abandoned children for adoption is unfair saying, “Even if we’re over 15, you should still adopt us, because we still need a family and someone who will love us.”
Eric Mallonga, a British-educated family lawyer and founder of Meritxell Children’s Home, the privately funded child care agency that was sheltering Sambalilo, expressed his worries and concerns as it appeared that the Philippine government has taken these abandoned children for granted.
“I’m just continuously worried that the government feels these children are not the priority,” Mallonga said. “These children are not prioritized, they’re always on the back burner and so more children are lost to crime, to prostitution, to neglect, and a lot of street families are growing.”
Orphanages are Scare and Poorly Staffed
Another sad reality concerning the increasing number of abandoned children in the Philippines, is the fact that there are not enough orphanages across the country and those that exist are not sufficiently staffed. Aside from “incompetence and ineptitude,” Mallonga also revealed that the government agencies are always demanding for documents that are “impossible to procure” thus, the simple process and the much needed paperwork end up to be a tedious and dragging ordeal.
The DSWD officials, however, said that they are doing everything they can to hasten the adoption procedures in the Philippines. The agency even insisted that they are “innovating techniques or even asking for suggestions or recommendations from child care agencies or [local governments]” to make the process and their system “faster.”
Unfortunately, not all abandoned children have luck on their side. Up until now, some abandoned kids are still seeking refuge in cemeteries, while others continue to wander in the busy streets of the country.
Mother’s Day for Abandoned Filipino Children
As a special occasion dawned upon us over the weekend, I can’t help but wonder about these abandoned children. What does Mother’s Day or Father’s Day mean to these kids?
On Sunday (May 14), the world celebrated Mother’s Day and in the Philippines, paying tribute to mothers is often done with much enthusiasm. In Filipino culture, families recognize the distinctively exceptional “bond” between a mother and her children. But as we celebrated the occasion with love and gratefulness, how do motherless children or abandoned kids celebrate the occasion?
Fortunately, the corporation, Xpress Money, collaborated with Virlanie Foundation and launched an initiative called “Mother’s Day for Kids without Mothers.” According to The Filipino Times, the campaign aimed to organize a special Mother’s Day feast for more than 60 children who are deprived of maternal love.
For this campaign, Xpress Money will donate 10 percent of its total revenue from all money transfers to the Philippines from April 21 to May 14. In addition, eleven lives will be transformed as the cause aims to provide food, shelter and good quality education to these chosen abandoned kids in Manila.
Hunger and Malnutrition
Another challenging ordeal that many Filipino children are facing is poverty. In fact, poverty is one of the major issues that affect the lives of millions of kids in the country. With poverty comes two more significant issues — hunger and malnutrition.
Earlier this year, Business Mirror reported that there’s an estimated 7 million Filipino children experiencing hunger and malnutrition. This report was a stark contrast to the auspicious economic growth of the Philippines.
A 2016 report from Rappler revealed that 1 in 3 Filipino children were malnourished, making the Philippines the 9th country with the highest prevalence of stunted children. The report also highlighted another depressing fact that 20 percent of children under 5-years-old are at risk of dying due to poor health services.
A national survey also added that chronic malnutrition in the country is the worst in decades. Save the Children Organization, however, said that hunger and malnutrition are “man-made problems” and are totally preventable. So, how do we really combat these issues?
Hunger and malnutrition are considered serious public health issues that are mainly caused by lack of nutrition education, poor health and sanitation, as well as inadequate access to healthy foods. Due to these challenges, Senator Grace Po said during her keynote speech at a malnutrition forum held in January, that “a generation of Filipino children” are deterred to reach their full potential because of hunger and deprivation of nutritious foods.
In order to address the issues on hunger and malnutrition, Nestle Philippines Chairman and CEO Jacques Reber suggested that the government needs “to adopt a more systemic approach” such as collaborating with organizations with expertise in various topics that focus on food and nutrition. But before the Philippines will be able to combat hunger and malnutrition, and reach its full potential to eliminate these public health issues, the government should also devise a plan to remove the stigma, which is one of the biggest barriers that comes with malnutrition.
In the Philippines, 95 Filipino kids die from malnutrition daily. The country is also losing at least P328 billion annually because of malnutrition. Fortunately, a new government health program called Philippine Integrated Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition aims to engage communities to combat malnutrition.
This year, the Department of Health is targeting 17 provinces and another 21 provinces in 2018. The program will reportedly attend to more than 38,200 children with severe acute malnutrition with ages from 6 months to 5 years.
Poverty is defined as the inability to have enough money to buy the basic needs in life, which include food, shelter and clothing. Despite the fact that the Philippine economy has risen to middle income level, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elver’s, February 2015 mission revealed that the nation’s access to adequate and healthy foods remains limited by “poverty and income levels.”
The national workforce productivity is also greatly affected since poverty-driven malnutrition could leave permanent effects on a person’s physical growth and mental development. With that said, hunger and malnutrition have stemmed from another vital and serious issue — poverty.
What’s worst, however, is the fact that poverty also affects Filipino children psychologically. You might have heard about “Hollywood”-worthy stories like how a child saw his own drug addict father stab his wife and then turn the knife on himself or how children born to poor parents survive living under the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) overpass.
These, however, are not scripted tales but a heartbreaking reality in the Philippines. These stories are also among those unheard ones. Due to poverty, thousands of children grow up in violent and harsh environments, leaving them with less hope for a better, sustainable future.
These children are also robbed of their youth, not to mention giving up on their dreams and aspirations in life. According to Rappler’s Amelie van den Brink, these “untreated psychological traumas” that Filipino children have experienced combined with poverty create a continuous cycle known as “psychological poverty,” a phenomenon that requires government’s attention to nurture the healthy development of the underprivileged population and future generations.
In spite of having child labor laws, poverty also force Filipino kids from poor families to work at an early age; beg in the streets, sell sampaguita necklaces, join gangs or enter the filthy world of prostitution. These are all part of a poor Filipino child’s nightmare where the infamous phrase “survival of the fittest” rings true.
So, where does this leave the children?
Sadly, most if not all poverty stricken children grow up in unsafe conditions, leaving profound and long-term effects on their overall development. These unfortunate circumstances can also cause mental, emotional and behavioral problems like depression, delinquency, increased chances of dropping out of school; low school achievement grade retention;, conduct disorder and poor peer relations.
In order to break the nasty cycle of poverty, van den Brink said, “The first step is to admit that poverty is also psychological. The second step is to admit that it requires psychological solutions. Third, the solution needs to start with poor families, they are the beginning and the end of the problem. And finally, the government’s funding priorities must be rethought.”
Sexual Abuse or Exploitation, Incest and Pedophilia
Aside from the aforementioned impacts, Filipino children who grow up with drug addict or alcoholic parents also face the gloomy reality of being victims of physical and sexual abuse, and neglect. In fact, the prevalence of incest among children of alcoholics is twice as high. One out of 10 Filipino children face sexual abuse and violence at home, as per the organization, World Vision Philippines.
The international humanitarian relief organization also revealed that the Philippines ranked 10th in the world in sexual exploitation. DSWD Secretary, Judy Taguiwalo, admitted the most vulnerable victims are the children of the poor.”
Just recently, the issues on sexual exploitation of Filipino children and pedophilia in the Philippines earned international media attention when the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) anti-human trafficking group raided a suspected pedophile’s home last April 20. Based on the reports, the NBI caught 53-year-old David Timothy Deakin, who was originally from Peoria, Illinois, in action and confiscated the largest illicit digital materials and paraphernalia that include children’s underwear, bondage cuffs, toddler shoes, hard drives, cameras, fetish ropes and meth pipes.
During the crime bust, two girls ages 10 and 12 were rescued. Unfortunately, the sexual exploitation crimes in the Philippines did not end there, as two weeks after the incident, the Philippine authorities recued four girls ages 8, 9, 11 and 12. They also arrested a mother and two other women for purportedly live streaming sexually exploitative videos of children to U.S. men who were paying by the minute to watch these unscrupulous and ruthless acts. (See our blog article ‘A Dollar for her Dignity.)
These crime busts also painted a bleak picture of the sexual exploitation of children in the Philippines in which 80 percent of these children who are victimized by foreign pedophiles have a “pimp” who lures, persuades, grooms and forces them to do sex acts. The live streaming cases of child sexual exploitation in the country have also increased following the first high-profile incident in 2011. The United Nations also warned that the new digital technologies could cause an “alarming growth of new forms of child sexual exploitation online.”
As the online child sexual abuse becomes a huge business in the Philippines, impoverished families are often tempted to earn from it. The NBI, however, vowed to combat and eradicate all forms of cybersex and pedophilia cases in the country. The bureau’s anti-human trafficking chief, Janet Francisco, even warned that through the help of their foreign counterparts, they will catch these criminals and put them in jail to die.
Physical and Psychological Violence
Another depressing reality about Filipino children is the issue on violence. According to a 2016 UNICEF survey, 80 percent of Filipino, or eight out of 10 youths, suffer some form of physical or psychological violence. The survey also echoed the aforementioned facts as one in 5 respondents of children aged 13-14 experienced sexual violence.
The survey also identified 13 types of violence during childhood including “physical or psychological neglect, witnessing physical or psychological violence at home, overall physical or psychological violence, severe physical or psychological violence, severe sexual violence, peer violence or bullying, cyber violence and collective violence.” Based on the survey, more than 60 percent of physical violence cases happened at home.
Moreover, the survey underscored the widespread practice of corporal punishment. More than half of the respondents received corporal punishment at home, while over 30 percent suffered more severe punishment such as “slapping, kicking or burning.”
With the harsh reality and living conditions of Filipino children, is there a hope for them to live a better life and have a better future? It will take time, support and cooperation from the government, private institutions and the concerned citizens to save these Filipino children, who our national hero, Jose Rizal, considered “the hope of the nation,” and if we can’t find a way, then we should make one.
Therefore, shall we?
Written by Kristine Belonio
BIO: Kristine Belonio is a registered medical laboratory scientist and DOH-trained screening drug test analyst who hopes for a drug-free Philippines. And though she loves to do all the “bloody” work and analyze other bodily fluids, she’s also an aspiring journalist with a thorough know-how on the rudiments of news, feature and editorial writing.