Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People
People on the Move
N° 98 (Suppl.), August 2005
Rev. Fr. Shay CULLEN, SSCME
President “Preda Foundation”
Who are the street children?
Street children are those children who experience family problems, hunger, neglect and domestic violence. They escape from their home and live part time on the streets. When they are settled and know street survival techniques, they return at times to their family hovels and shacks. They leave again and bring their younger brothers and sisters. Parents at times send them out to beg and scavenge and even prostitute them or sell them into bonded labour. The worst exploitation of children is the taking of a kidney that is sold to wealthy patients in need of transplants. We cannot forget the children aborted on the streets and back alleys or dumped into the garbage by the not-so-secret abortion clinics.
Other street children are permanently on the streets engaged in scavenging, child labour, begging, peddling drugs, petty theft and many end up in jail. Their rights are frequently abused by the police while on the streets, they are raped and forced to hand over their daily earnings. Others are accused falsely for crimes committed by street children recruited into a police controlled and protected gang. The gangs of street children prey on the younger and weaker children and sometimes make them sex slaves using drugs, food and fear as the controlling weapon. The children are trained to be drug couriers. Although innocent, the younger and unprotected can suffer untold abuse by the other street youth. When in the jails, they can be mixed with criminals, rapists and pedophiles.
They are runaways from dysfunctional, broken homes with an abusive parent. In the home, usually a hovel and poor environment beside a polluted canal or malarial swamp, they suffer sexual abuse, rape, physical abuse, verbal battering, rejection and malnutrition and malaria, diarrhea and dengue.
Most street children are illiterate. Having no incentive, money or support and encouragement to study, they have dropped out of elementary school. They join street gangs for their own protection and use industrial glue as a mind altering and mood tranquilizer. They work selling plastic bags, newspapers, flowers or begging for a syndicate. Many are controlled by pimps and sold to sex tourists on street corners or brought to the casa, a house of prostitution.
Street children are the poorest of the poor, they are the most vulnerable and weakest and unless helped they are the HIV-AIDS victims of the future, child prostitutes that attract foreign sex tourists. They can become the future criminals and even terrorists angry at the adult world who gave them life in worst misery imaginable. The adult world has done this to the children.
Visiting an Asian city
The first disturbing sight to greet a traveller of conscience on the road from the airport into any major city in a developing country will be the malnourished, half-naked, dirty-faced street children begging for coins.
They will rush up to the window of the taxi when stopped at the traffic lights gesturing towards their mouth or stomach begging for food with sad appealing looks. Some only ten-year old girls dressed in a ragged dress can carry a naked two-year old so as to elicit greater sympathy from tourists. Many of these street children are living impoverished lives, hungry, destitute and endangered. However, they are there because they have migrated from some other place where they were in even greater danger. The streets are a much safer place than that from where they fled and escaped.
How many street children?
According to Unicef, there is an estimated 100 million children living, at least part of their time, on the streets world-wide (see annex Statistics).
In the Philippines, a government report in 1998 put the figure at 1. 2 million street children and about 70,000 of them in Metro Manila alone. Another report states that there are approximately 1.5 million children on the streets working as beggars, pickpockets, drug abusers and child prostitutes (ECPAT). Today, the number of children and youth living part of their lives on the streets of the Philippines could reach two million out of a total population of 84 million.
The gender balance of the street children is roughly estimated to be two thirds boys and one third girls. No exhaustive research has been done to determine this. Based on the reports of charity workers, this is a fair comment. The groups of children are divided into those living part time on the streets and go home every three or four days for a few hours or a day and then return to the streets.
They sleep in doorways, in push carts, under plastic sheets, bridges, drainage pipes, derelict buildings, in old, abandoned cars and buses and some even make shacks in the trees along the fashionable boulevards. They favour being with the rich dead in cemeteries where the tombs are roofed. They sleep in doorways on the pavements or in the church porch. The live along the sea walls and canals.
How young are they?
The children on the streets a few days a week are youngest, from seven to 12 years old. The older boys and girls on the street are there for one or two years, that is, permanently on the streets, are aged 13 to 16 although nine and 10-year old children are also among this group.
Root causes of migration and street children linked to poverty and
Life is seen as disposable and those unwanted children who survive are throwaways and turned by society into human garbage on the street. They are the street children who survive the rampant abortion clinics that prey on the poor and the middle class alike proposing elimination of the child as the solution to poverty created by the irresponsible rich.
There is moral, social, political and economic decay that is all too similar to most other impoverished developing nations. It is not getting any better as the economic and cultural globalization continues to create more poverty. The ruling elite adopts the policies inspired by the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, all detrimental to the well-being of the poor. A Unicef study concluded that the IMF policies had ‘poverty-inducing effects’ especially on the poorest and children in particular. That was true of 56 countries included in the study including the Philippines.
The economic and political reality is that the nation is ruled by wealthy family dynasties that dominate politics make laws that favour their own business interests. They are about two percent of the population but control or own seventy-five percent of the wealth. They in turn are frequently linked in partnership with international supranational corporations. Globalization policies favour their interests by opening natural resources to them for exploitation thus causing displacement of native people, loss of ancestral lands, insurgency and more migration of people.
The political elite act out of a desire to grow immensely wealthy to buy more political power, expand their business empires, dominate their rivals and assuage their fear of the poor. They have the power of congress and the senate in their control and can maintain low wages, use the police and military to quell dissent and protest to benefit multinational corporations and their own business empires. This too is achieved by reducing import and corporate taxes and allowing small or independent Filipino businesses to go bankrupt.
Family dynasties and business empires while at time contesting the top prize of the presidency are pragmatists and reach accommodations. Instead of healthy competition, they negotiate, merge, or engage in price fixing cartels thus eliminating fair competition. This results in higher prices of basic commodities, greater hardship and poverty and more street children. This is marked by the privatization of debt-ridden government corporations and the passing on of the debts to the Filipino people through higher taxes on the middle class and the poor.
Spiritual decline and moral corruption of the political process
Many politicians, most of whom proclaim themselves to be pious Catholics but in reality are obsessed with possessing money, power and greater political patronage, are morally corrupt. Greed and avarice consume the handful of political dynasties as they fight each other to expand their political power and control the national funds and thus perpetuate themselves in power.
The political will and spiritual commitment of the wealthy elite to
address and change this situation is about zero. They live lives of
conspicuous consumption in enclosed compounds. There is no interest,
national desire or pride ambition to build a civilized, safe and secure
society for the 84 million Filipinos and the more than 2 million street
children to be able to enjoy a home, security, health and education.
Mass migration is the response of those who can get out and go abroad. Seven million Filipinos live and work abroad. They send remittances of 8 billion US dollars back to their families. Banks and government agencies siphon a percentage of these remittances for themselves giving low exchange rates, transmittal transfer charges and release costs. Before the money even reaches the poor families, part of it is taken by the rich.
Those who cannot migrate abroad migrate to the cities. More street children are the visible result. There are broken homes and abandoned children as a result of a parent, oftentimes the mother, working abroad. The children run to the streets as the father takes another woman as a live-partner.
Where do they come from?
The unstoppable march of global materialism and economic domination enriches the elite further and plunges the poor into even great poverty and increases the number of displaced families and children.
Fueled by a century of social injustice and land grabbing by the rich, the social inequality, so clearly enunciated by the Holy Father during his first visit to the Philippines, has continued. It drives hungry farmers into the arms of the communist rebels and the ranks of the Muslim rebels and other insurgents. They recruit the children as child soldiers and expose them to terrible dangers, violence and killings.
As child soldiers, they are mentally and emotionally damaged and flee the war for the streets. As the economy worsens, poverty increases, political violence grows and more and more impoverished rural families are driven from their homes in the impoverished countryside because of an insurgency and rebellion.
The resulting military offenses, supported by the fire power and gun ships of foreign military troops, strike at suspected villages and add to the discontent and only increases a growing rebellion. Then more refugees come streaming to the cities thus swelling the number of street dwellers and children striving to survive. Many are abducted or seduced and sold into sex slavery as demanded by the international sex tourist trade.
Exploited by the sex industry
While the street children suffer exploitation and abuse, the rich build sex resorts to accommodate the customers. Eight-year old migrant children are trafficked to these resorts to gratify the carnal appetites of the rich sex tourists. The available high speed Internet feeds child pornography into the resorts and hotels to whet and enlarge the customers appetites for sex with children while the Internet server providers grew rich while refusing to block the images of the sexual abuse of little children.
From the street to the jail
Frequently arrested, street children are jailed without proper legal procedures. They are at times treated as non-persons. In a society where money is the measure of human worth, the children have no value. In the subhuman conditions of overcrowded jails mixed with adults, they are deprived of light, learning, exercise, family and companionship.
They are sodomize and sexually abused by the adult prisoners in
overcrowded cells with no space to lie down together. Half of the
prisoners have to stand while the other half sleeps. The only schooling
the street children receive inside is how to be a criminal. They suffer
systematic violation of their human rights from the day they have been
accused and incarcerated without due process of law. When they do get out,
they return to the streets and are able to organize street gangs of
children to engage in crime. They are psychologically damaged and
traumatized and sometimes deranged. They face the dangers of tuberculosis
and other diseases while in the prison.
These street child gangs are controlled by an organized syndicate and the street children have to turn over a large portion of their earnings or ill-gotten goods to the boss. There are many more degrading and repulsive forms of work that street children have to perform in order to live and survive. In every case, the street child is a target of exploitation or violence by adults. The number of children exploited, abused, enslaved and abandoned on the streets is horrific.
Death squads execute street children
Street children are considered unwanted pests by merchants and they demand their elimination. Several cities has seen death squad activities, vigilante groups believed to be off duty policemen. Davao City in Mindanao, Southern Philippines has the most notorious death squad that eliminates street children as happens in South American countries such as Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras. Many hundreds, even thousands, did not survive and died unnecessary deaths, unloved and unwanted, rejected and thrown away.
The observer-traveler to a developing country might see from the taxi emaciated children eight to twelve years old lying semi-naked on the pavement clutching plastic bags. They are drugged and slowly dying from the constant use of cheap industrial glue, a toxic substance that damages the brain while it temporarily eases the feelings of hunger and depression.
Others fall victim to the violence of gang warfare. Young girls as young as eight or nine migrate to the streets after witnessing domestic violence or having been raped by the parents or relatives. They are again raped by the gang of street boys that live wild and unruly lives. The girls can then disguise themselves as boys to avoid further sexual aggression.
The response of the Church and civil society
In a determined effort to establish the data on the existence of street child projects in Philippine parishes and dioceses, it was found that there is no directory of such projects. However, pastoral projects for street children are mostly planned and implemented by religious organizations and civil society.
It must be noted that many projects for street children implemented by these religious organizations and civil society are financed by church agencies in developed nations.
Following a request to the 69 social action centres in the dioceses in the Philippines, this researcher received six replies to our request for information about parish or diocesan projects related to street children. There were:
Diocese of Sorsogon
The Sorsogon Social Action Foundation Inc. of the Diocese of Sorsogon reported strong human rights and social development projects being implemented. However, the pastoral response to street children is in the planning stage. The problem is recognized.
Archdiocese of Ozamis
The Archdiocese of Ozamis has projects that focus on nutrition and health care for poor families in the rural areas. The social action director recognizes the annual increase in the number of street children in the diocese but due to lack of knowledge in designing, managing and implementing programs for street children, there is no specific program for them.
Diocese of Virac, Catanduanes
While it has an active social development foundation it does not have a pastoral project for the street children. The social action director is aware of the existence of street children in the area. Diocesan social workers have interviewed a group of about twenty of these children and learned that many of them have families but they would prefer to stay outside their homes and some have been abandoned. The local government do not have any policy or program on street children nor any data on the subject. Diocesan workers and local government employees lack the capability and personnel to develop a program for the street children but hope to be able to do so in the future.
Diocese of Tagbilaran, Bohol
The diocese provides extensive social development programs in 55 parishes however it does not have a specific pastoral project for street children but has an acute awareness of the growing dangers facing children especially minors in the sex tourist industry. The social action centre is open to new possibilities to help street children.
Social Action Centre of Gumaca, Quezon
The Social Action Centre of the Diocese of Gumaca recognizes the problem of street children and detention of minors in adult jail but it does not have an existing program for the benefit of street children and children in conflict with the law. It is willing to start a program on this concern.
Social Action Centre of Alaminos, Pangasinan
The social Action Centre of Alaminos, Pangasinan has comprehensive programs for children designed for their welfare, development and protection. These programs help families and the community and prevent the occurrence of street children. These are programs that provide cultural pressures on the families. These are also programs that provide opportunity for the poor children to get to school, articulate their dreams, develop their talents, clarify their values, strengthen their character, make them aware of their rights, as well as their duties and responsibilities. There are also programs and services that help parents build their capacities to provide for their children’s needs, that give them support in fulfilling their roles as parents and as vehicles to keep the families intact in spite of the economic, social, political and cultural pressures on the families. These are also programs that enable the basic ecclesiastical communities (BEC’s) to provide the environment where the children can grow into healthy and productive citizens. They also empower the community to be able to respond to the needs, issues and concerns of the children.
Archdiocese of Manila (Caritas)
Research through the Internet revealed that the Archdiocese of Manila has pastoral initiatives for street children undertaken by the Salesian Fathers through “Don Bosco” that supports Tuloy Foundation. Caritas Manila also reaches out through the Pangarap Shelter for Street children operated by the Franciscan brothers at 2503 Taft Ave., corner Escobal St. Pasay City.
Diocese of Iba, Zambales
The Diocese of Iba, Zambales, is served by the work of the People’s Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistant (PREDA) Foundation Inc. located at Upper Kalaklan, Olongapo City. This agency is headed by an Irish Columban Missionary and provides extensive pastoral initiatives for street children through street contact and non-formal education and recreation, legal protection and providing basic human needs. A residential centre is needed for the street children but funding is a problem.
The actions of many religious congregations for street children are
conducted in coordination, in many cases, with other civil organizations
and government agencies. There are several national and regional
coalitions working together for children's rights and groups working
exclusively for street children are included. Many of the initiatives for
street children in civil society groups are implemented by committed
These projects are financed by charitable donations. The government provides no help. Some local governments are violating the rights of street children by imprisoning them in subhuman conditions in separate holding facilities. There they endure hardship, abuse and many other problems. The government facilities are very few, overcrowded and are basically holding cells. No programs for education, vocational training and recovery from traumas. Many street children are falsely charged with petty crimes and imprisoned for being homeless.
What are these initiatives for street children?
That is, the children are helped where they are - on the streets. Street contact workers are trained to conduct non-formal education and provide basic needs. Some are successful in getting the children off the streets and into school. This project needs constant follow-up, monitoring and financial support.
Street children themselves are sometimes trained to become street educators themselves. They are the peer groups and are respected and accepted. They help to break down the lack of trust that street children have of social workers and helpers. Maximum participation of children in the work is a sign of best practice. Non-formal education on the street is an indication of this.
Jobs for street children. They are helped to have income earning activities to support themselves on the streets. Washing cars, guarding, parking area, shine boys, selling products on the streets and plastic bags around the markets. Sadly, some are made professional beggars, drug couriers, pimps and child prostitutes.
This is an approach that tries to bring responding children into the
school system by providing support and encouragement and regular follow up
Drop-in centres for street children are common in the major cities.
However, they are vulnerable to the love of the freedom of the streets.
The dropout rate can be high. There is the added difficulty of providing
sufficient care that will make a difference in the lives of the children.
It provides basic needs and shelter but it is usually short lived. When
children do stay longer, they are referred to centres that care for the
Forming special action groups of street children
This strategy of helping street children utilizes theatre, circus and other projects to get the children off the streets. Children are involved in both education and earning money in these projects and they are successful in some cases but fail to promote the human and emotional development of the children by dealing with the underlying emotional needs and resolving traumas they suffered. Some have been controversial because of allegations of exploitation of the children.
Street contact for children
This is a regular contact by dedicated social workers with groups of street children. The workers relate with the children to win their trust, offer legal and personal protection against any acts of abuse by the authorities and work to release them from jails and holding cells or gets charges dismissed against them. The project provides basic needs like clothes, food, medical help and shelter when needed. Efforts are made to contact parents and enable the child to visit the parents. Part-time work for older children is provided when possible.
Livelihood project for parents is at times an aspect of street contact, as well as meetings, outings and non-formal education. This the model that is being implemented by the Preda Foundation, Olongapo City and other agencies. There is no attempt to take them off the streets unless they are willing to be enrolled in school.
Funding the project for street children
Financing of these projects are mostly depending on international aid agencies, church-based charitable institutions or civil society and child protection agencies. Few of these projects are self-supporting.
How many children are reached in these projects in the Philippines is unknown. The fact that there is an estimated 1.2 million street children makes it unlikely that more than ten percent are reached by these projects.
There are no figures on the people involved whether professionals or volunteers. Those in the civil society and NGOs are mostly professionals and paid street child workers. Church projects are headed by a religious brother or priest and they employ paid professional staff.
Religious values in some projects
Many of these projects depend on teaching values to the children such
their own sense of personal dignity and self-awareness of their rights.
Responsibility of European churches
The majority of customers for prostituted street children are non-Filipinos. Korea and Japan are the sources of the customers in Asia. Many also come from Australia. Many Europeans come to Asia and the Philippines to abuse children of all ages. They offer a lot of money for the child and the pimps see them as the customers to be pursued and supplied.
Pastoral projects for street children in dioceses are not well documented or are not yet established for street children and information on such projects are not yet available. […]
It is highly recommended that:
Children now make up half of the population of Africa. Many in urban areas are reduced to living on the streets, surviving through begging, theft and violence (FEBA Radio Publication).
There are 10,000 street girls living in Dhaka, Bangladesh (World Vision International, 1993).
Belgium has 4,000 homeless children (in the charge of homeless parents) (Council of Europe).
In Bolivia there are 1,500 to 2,000 children living and sleeping in the streets (Bolivian Government, Census Figures, 1992).
Homeless children in Brazil number around 12 million (Action International Ministries).
Phnom Penh, Cambodia has about 5,000 to 10,000 street children (World Vision International, 1993).
It is estimated that there are at least 40 million street children in Latin America. Many are victims of abuse, sometimes murder, by police, other authorities and individuals who are supposed to protect them (Casa Alianza).
5,000 to 9,000 children live on the streets of Bogota, Colombia (Action International Ministries).
France has about 10,000 street children (Council of Europe).
Ireland has 500 to 1,000 street children (Council of Europe).
Mexico City has 1,900,000 underprivileged and street children. Of these 240,000 are abandoned children (Action International Ministries).
In the central area of Mexico City there are 11,172 street children. Of these 1,020 live in the street and 10,152 work there (City of Mexico/Fideicomiso, Report, 1991).
Street children in the Netherlands number some 7,000 (Council of Europe).
Up to 10,000 street and underprivileged children die in Lima, Peru every year (Kids Alive Ministry).
There are 50,000 to 70,000
street children in Manila (Action International Ministries).
A survey funded by the European Union found around 1,500 children living on the streets of Bucharest. More than 50% were aged between 12 and 15 and 83% of them were boys. Almost 40% had been on the streets for three or more years and 30% were permanently stoned on solvents, while another 25% used them occasionally ("The Independent", 8 July 1996).
In Moscow, 5,000 children and young people are abandoned on the streets every year (BBC1 News, 12 October 1994).
There are 6,000 to 7,000 street children in Istanbul, Turkey (Council of Europe).
According to a 'Crisis' report half of the beggars on our streets spent their childhood in care and a quarter slept on the streets before they were 16 ("IDEA" Magazine of the Evangelical Alliance, January 1995).
Nearly 100,000 young people go missing in Britain each year (The Children's Society, "Young runaways", 1989).
Vast numbers of children in the United Kingdom run away from home and 156,000 young people are homeless in Britain every year (according to Shelter).
United States of America
In the United States there is a crisis situation and Federal Government revealed that there are about 500,000 under-age runaways and ‘throw-aways’ ("New York Times", 5 February 1990).