MANILA, Philippines – How many “abandoned” and “neglected” children do you encounter everyday?
According to the Council for the Welfare of Children‘s (CWC) latest data, as of 2011, there are over 3,000 neglected and abandoned Filipino children. Since 2003, children have had the highest magnitude of poor among basic sectors, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) reported.
Magnitude of poor among Filipino children
As of 2011, children made up 52.6% of the country’s total poor individuals, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) also revealed. Meanwhile, 30,000-50,000 children are annually displaced by armed conflict, CWC stressed. (READ: Aiming for zero undernourished kids)
These children are vulnerable to abuse – physical, sexual, emotional – trafficking, and hazardous labor. Others get involved in illegal activities either as prey or perpetrator.
Many end up in the streets both in rural and urban areas. Others, however, end up transferring from one shelter to another – provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), DSWD, or their relatives.
Families, for them, are only ephemeral.
Philippine laws define “abandoned children” as:
- Having no proper parental care
- Left by parents for 3 continuous months
Children are “neglected” if:
- Their basic needs are unattended for 3 continuous months
- Physically neglected: Child is malnourished, poorly dressed, no proper shelter, unattended
- Emotionally neglected: Child is maltreated, raped, seduced, exploited; endures unhealthy labor; forced to beg; exposed to gambling, prostitution, vices
Jeny Villocino has lived in many houses, but never a home.
At 6, her parents separated and she, along with her 6 siblings, were left with their grandmother. Soon after, poverty took them apart.
Each child had to live with a different relative. It was either this or they go hungry, their grandmother decided.
Jeny hopped from one relative to another for years. One weekend, she was in Cavite; the next, in Cubao or elsewhere. “Pasa-pasahan.” (I was passed around.)
She wore several uniforms; she did not stay in one school for too long.
“I hope other kids won’t experience this. It’s always temporary, as if everything’s borrowed,” now 32-year-old Jeny said. “I’m lucky I wasn’t abused, but many are.”
Some children are forced to shoulder an entire family’s chores in exchange for living with them. Others are maltreated, starved, or ignored – creating a cycle of negligence.
The Philippine Child and Youth Welfare Code of 1974 imposes “criminal liability” on parents who sell, exploit, abandon, or neglect their children – this includes not enrolling them in school and depriving them of care.
The penalty, however, is merely an “imprisonment from 2-6 months or a fine not exceeding P500, or both, at the discretion of the Court.” The Code also states that the government must provide assistance to needy families and solo parents.
In case of neglect or abandonment, children are placed under the care of DSWD, which manages residential care facilities. It may also refer children to licensed child-caring institutions for care or adoption.
Not everyone in these facilities is orphaned; others have parents, but are incapable of support.
The government, however, cannot support all its children; not everyone is reached by social services.
At 9, Jeny finally found home.
Her grandmother sought help from DSWD, which then referred them to SOS Children’s Village, an international non-profit organization.
SOS brought her and her siblings to Alabang, where the 2-hectare village is located. Each village has 10-14 houses, each is home to 8-10 children and one “house mama” – who is salary-based and trained by SOS.
Young girls and boys have separate rooms, and boys aged 13 and above stay in a separate youth facility.
Some of the house mamas are former SOS children.
Other villages are found in Batangas, Cebu, Davao, Tacloban, Samar, Iloilo, and Bataan. Each village has staff, counselors, doctors, and “house aunties” who assist house mothers.
Children’s education is supported from kindergarten until college or vocational school. Jeny earned a degree in psychology and worked for a law firm for over 7 years.
SOS children are discouraged from working at SOS upon graduation, so that they can have other career opportunities. Jeny, however, decided to return to SOS to work.
“I want to help children who were like me.”
The organization began in Austria in 1949 and expanded to 133 countries, including the Philippines in 1967.
SOS caters to orphaned, abandoned, and neglected children aged 2 to 12, and in some cases, even if they are older. However, support does not end at twelve, but continues until children grow into self-sufficient adults.
Children are referred to them by DSWD or NGOs.
All of their needs are provided – counseling, shelter, education, healthcare, food, and clothes. Younger children ride a school bus, while older ones are taught how to commute. Once they enter college, SOS pays for their dorms.
The village offers extracurricular activities such as music, sports, and art clubs. Children are also taught how to cook, budget, and do household chores.
“I hope fortunate Pinoys – especially the 1% elite – can give back to the country, especially for the children,” Mark Garay, an SOS officer, wished.
Many children have entered and left the village since the 1970s. Jeny remembered her friends who became a pilot, a doctor, and a scholar in a university abroad.
“Some arrived as malnourished babies. We provided interventions. They improved, but their mental abilities were irreversibly affected,” Jeny shared. “Their mental age is different from their physical age.” (READ: Stunting in the Philippines)
The village also provides Family Strengthening Programs that teach families “to look after themselves so that they can live independently in the long-term.”
“The goal is to provide long-term care. It’s not institutionalized care, it’s family-based,” Jeny said. “We don’t encourage dependency, we prepare them for life after graduation.”
Promoting children’s rights
Save the Children found that “many features of institutional care present several issues and challenges to the promotion of children’s right.” This includes:
- Child abuse within institutions
- Some children in institutions are discriminated at school
- Developmental delays: Children “institutionalized before the age of 6 months may suffer long-term developmental delay”
- Attachment issues
- Imposition of religious beliefs: Some institutions impose religious beliefs which may be contrary to the child’s background
- Lack of preparation for adult life: Too much dependency on the government or NGO
The study also emphasized that “less investments on public health and social services increases child abandonment.” It also stressed that poorly funded and badly managed institutions “can do more harm than good.”
In the future, SOS Philippines plans to expand its care to Zamboanga, HIV-positive children, and children with disabilities.
“Know your responsibilities as parents. Though there are NGOs, nothing beats a real family. Also, children shouldn’t take their parents for granted,” Jeny added.
Khrys is a 17-year old college freshman. She has been raised by Jemma Peddiao, her “house mama” since she was 11.
She and her 4 siblings were orphaned when their father died and their mother abandoned them soon after. Their aunt referred them to SOS.
“Nanibago ako, ‘di ako sanay ng may nag-aalaga sa akin,” she said. “Tinuruan din kami ng responsibilities, kaya ko nang maging ate ngayon.”
(I wasn’t used to being taken care of. We were also taught to take on responsibilities, I can be an older sister to others now.)
Mama Jemma has been with SOS since 2005.
“Marami dito, mga abandoned children. Sana ang mga Pinoy bago mag-asawa o mag-anak, isipin muna kung kaya nilang pakainin at suportahan ang bata,” Jemma said.
(Many of the children here are abandoned. I wish that before Pinoys decide to marry or have children, they first plan whether they can feed and support kids.)
She looked tired; she had just finished enrolling all of her SOS children in different schools.
Khrys greeted her mama with a pagmamano. “Magkamukha ba kami ni mama?” Khrys said. (Do mama and I resemble each other?) She hopes to graduate from college so she can help support her younger siblings.
The children of SOS village, however, are just some of the country’s many poor children. Outside the walls of the village, many children are still aching for love and care. – Rappler.com
For those who want to donate online or help SOS Children’s Village Philippines, please visit their website for their contact details.
For more information on how you can help abandoned children, please read the National Statistics Office’s (NSO) guidelines on registering children in need of special protection.
Share your stories and ideas with us. Report what your LGU is doing, recommend NGOs, and suggest ways on how we can help fight hunger. E-mail us at email@example.com. Be part of the #HungerProject.