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The Philippines' throwaway street children

As many as 250,000 youngsters are treated like garbage by being discarded and abused in cities and towns

The Philippines' throwaway street children

Many children in the Philippines have been forced to live on city streets and slums. (Photo: Vincent Go)

His name can be Angelico, one of the 250,000 or more homeless children in the Philippines who live in city streets, alleyways, rubbish dumps and open markets. They have no secure home, love, care, security or dignity.

Angelico was abandoned by his biological parents who had a broken relationship. Children like him are rejected and neglected and find their alternative home in a pushcart, enduring a life of day-to-day survival and self-support.

Angelico was given away as a child to a couple that agreed to informally adopt him. By the time he was 13, he was feeling increasingly unloved. He had no will to succeed. He failed in school, had no birth certificate and could hardly read or write. He became for them a problem child yet he did not suffer any abuse or maltreatment with the adoptive family.

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In desperation, in 2020, his adoptive parents decided to return him to his biological father who had rejected him at birth and was living in Manila.

It was traumatic for him to be rejected a second time and to be left with a man he never knew, one that did not care for him either. Angelico was neglected, hungry and continually beaten and rejected by his father. When the hurt and pain of being kicked and beaten was unendurable, he ran away to live on his own.

They also had to escape being grabbed by pimps and human traffickers who would sell them to pedophiles 

There are an estimated 126 million such children in the world. Angelico lived on the streets in Manila, linking up with other street children as they scavenged on the dumps. They were begging on the streets, doing any odd jobs they could find, collecting scrap, junk plastic for recycling and buying and eating recooked leftover scraps of restaurant food called “pag-pag.”

They also had to escape being grabbed by pimps and human traffickers who would sell them to pedophiles to be sexually abused or raped. The street children, boys and girls, are vulnerable, without protection and unable to make complaints to authorities when they have been raped.

When human traffickers knock them out by giving them industrial glue to sniff, they force them to perform sex with each other on livestreaming sex shows to foreign customers over the internet.

The internet service providers — PLDT/Smart, Globe and Dito — and their Singapore-based investors and shareholders have the moral and legal responsibility to obey the Philippines’ anti-child pornography law and block such criminal abuse of children. Yet they fail to do so despite all the public appeals.

Street children like Angelico live in constant stress, anxiety and fear of capture and abuse. They develop mental health conditions that few people know or care about. They are the throwaway children, considered useless to society, being illiterate, diseased, malnourished and suspected of having criminal minds because they stole a banana or bread to survive the bitter pangs of hunger.

The real criminals are corrupt authorities who abuse them and ignore their plight as they live and die on the garbage dumps and in the sewers.

The neighborhood informal police (barangay tanod) see the street children as pests, thieves and potential criminals. They harass, arrest and jail them in youth detention centers to await trial.

Many, some as young as 10, are detained without charge and held behind bars on suspicion of breaking curfew hours. That’s when they run away from the sex abuse and beatings in their family homes and hide out in the markets and back alleys. That’s when they are offered food and shelter by human traffickers and pimps who hold them in another kind of captivity for sexual abuse.

How can they not be on the streets at night when they have no homes? The authorities frequently arrest the children on trumped-up charges, such as curfew breaking or being couriers or delivery boys for drug pushers, and jail them in the Bahay Pag-asa, houses known as houses of hopelessness. Inside, they suffer beatings, sexual abuse and torture as documented by the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.

Angelico survived by his resilience and conviction that he was a good boy

The estimated 250,000 homeless street children are among 4.5 million homeless people in a population of 110 million in the Philippines. They live like garbage to be thrown away and their rights are being violated every day by authorities that are supposed to protect and help them.

Angelico survived by his resilience and conviction that he was a good boy. Somehow, he made his way back to the provincial town to his adoptive parents and, after an emotional encounter, they accepted him for a while. But the relationship had been broken. They could not live together and Angelico went out to live and survive on his own again in the market, which is no easy life.

The authorities in the provincial town are more caring than those in the city and they found Angelico and brought him to the Preda Foundation home for boys, where he was accepted and given welcome, affirmation, kindness and understanding in a family that has shared his hardship and rejection.

He is now studying, having therapy, learning practical skills in vocational training and enjoying freedom from fear, hunger and want. He does art, plays games and basketball. He has found a happy childhood with many others. Angelico’s adoptive parents have come to visit and family therapy is ongoing. A happier future is now possible.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in the Philippines in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sexual abuse. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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