The worst-hit victims of a globalized economy

While the rich get richer, a growing number of Filipino street children are being subjected to abject poverty and abuse
The worst-hit victims of a globalized economy

Many children in urban poor communities in Manila have become victims of the government's war against illegal drugs. (Photo by Vincent Go)

The Philippines has some of the greatest inequality in the world. There are 16 million people suffering serious poverty out of population of 107 million.

At least six million live in extreme poverty. They suffer the burning heat of summer and the downpours and floods of the rainy season in hovels made of plastic sheeting, scrap wood and rusty metal sheets.

They eat a meager one meal a day, sometimes with high-protein fish and meat scraps. Most are uneducated, jobless and have low access to healthcare.

Children are the worst affected. They suffer from bad food resulting in stunted growth and learning disabilities. They live in dysfunctional families where harsh words and rejection, hard work and abuse are the norm. They witness violence and sexual activity from an early age. They eat low-quality rice and a pinch of salt, a spoon of vegetables and seldom meat, if ever. 

Their life is harsh, crude, rough and hopeless. Year after year, more children are born into dire poverty.

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The government, which is supposed to uplift the lives of the poor and create a more equal society, has instead launched a war on drugs, killing as many as 22,360, according to the latest count by human rights groups.

The children take to the streets to survive, to escape beatings, broken homes and hunger by joining street gangs, sniffing industrial glue to block the pain of living without love, care, education and enduring a life of misery without a future.

They are mostly innocent children aged from 10 to 15 and while not criminally liable for misdemeanors are nevertheless arrested for being homeless street children. They are jailed illegally and suffer beatings and abuse from inmates. Children commit only 2 percent of all crimes in the Philippines.

Their alleged survival strategies — petty theft and drug use — are not crimes but an unconscious response to life and having to endure injustice, greed and selfishness in a society that condemns them as criminals and does little to change their dire situation.

They are the first victims of a Philippine economy dominated by a tiny rich elite who own as much as 70 percent of the national wealth. They are part of a globalized world economy that creates dire poverty for hundreds of millions.

The politicians are mostly members of the economic elite, the ruling dynasties, and they buy their way to government positions to protect the wealth of the Philippine super rich. They pass laws to benefit themselves and their rich supporters with lower taxes and low levels of regulation so that their corporations and multinational partners can do what they want.

Inequality grows greater with the globalization of the world economy. Corporations are moving production to poorer countries that allow the lowest wages and overhead costs.

They frequently have deals with politicians and pay bribes to get ahead with illegal transactions. This is a simple statement but holds much truth. The rule of the rich, through dynastic families, keeps the poor very poor, uneducated, jobless and ready to sell their votes for a trifle and re-elect their oppressor.

It allows global corporations to exploit natural resources and earn vast profits and this concentrates the wealth throughout the world in the hands, pockets and bank accounts of a very few people. So while a few are very rich, many hundreds of millions of people are very poor, hungry, unemployed or earning starvation wages.

It is now a proven fact that 1 percent or less of the world’s population owns, controls and enjoys more than half of the entire wealth on the planet. According to Credit Swiss bank, the wealthiest 1 percent of humans have grown richer by 6 percent since 2012 and now own as much as US$280 trillion.

According to Oxfam, inequality is getting much worse. It revealed that 82 percent of all the wealth created in 2018 went to only 1 percent of the world’s population. Meanwhile, 3.7 billion impoverished people who make up the poorest half of humanity got nothing.

The most equal countries in the world start with Iceland, a very small country with a vibrant democracy that tolerates no corruption. It is followed by Norway, Denmark, Finland, Slovenia and then Austria and Sweden. The Philippines is among the most corrupt, according to Transparency International, and where thousands of children marked as criminals are jailed.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

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