MANILA (DWDD) – In line with the celebration of the National Children’s Month this November, Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy M. Taguiwalo calls for public attention to reach out to street children and safeguard them from violence, exploitation and all forms of physical, verbal or sexual abuse.
“The present state of children seen roaming on the streets is one of the main concerns of the welfare agency. We are alarmed on the increasing number of children who stay most of the time on the streets to help their families to earn a living. Most of them no longer attend school and deprived of their rights to a safe environment, education, and their most basic needs for food, health services, and safe shelter. They do not enjoy a normal childhood because of extreme poverty that can be traced in most cases to the failure of the state to provide adequate social support,” said the Secretary.
Currently, the Department has a Comprehensive Program for Street Children and Street Families that provides a package of services, interventions and opportunities for children and families at-risk on the streets to live productively in a safe environment. Under the comprehensive program, 5,398 street children have been given educational assistance, while some 15,557 street children have attended activity sessions in several DSWD activity centers in Metro Manila from 2011 to 2016.
According to a 2015 report by a local non-government organization (NGO) that focuses on the plight of street children, street children comprise about 1-3% of the children and youth population of the major cities in the country. Estimates have it that there are 30,000 children on the streets of Metro Manila and the National Capital Region. On a national scale, estimates of children living off the streets are pegged at 250,000 street children. Children as young as seven years old roam the streets to beg money from passersby or to sell candies, cigarettes and newspapers. The NGO said that about 75% of these same children have homes to return to, and they go home after earning money to augment their family’s small budgets.
Reaching out to street children
Reports of children found roaming on the streets have already been circulating in social media. These have prompted the DSWD, local government units (LGUs), other concerned agencies, and (NGOs) to immediately reach out to them and remove them from harm’s way.
At present, the DSWD manages a team dedicated to respond to the needs of children and families at risk on the streets, including Sama-Bajau groups, through the @savestreetkids Twitter account.
Through the account, concerned citizens can report children at risk by stating the exact location and situation of the street child or children.
If a report is received by the DSWD, a moderator will send an acknowledgement reply to the referrer and will forward details of the report to the unit in-charge of the rescue. The rescue unit will then assess the situation and discuss the appropriate action, as well as, conduct the actual inter-agency reach out operation with the concerned LGU, through the City Social Welfare Development Office (CSWDO), barangay, and the police.
During the actual reach out operation, the following considerations must be carried out:
- Members of the inter-agency reach out team should be clearly and visibly identified through ID cards or in uniforms. They should introduce themselves to the child and explain clearly the situation and assure the child at risk that they mean no harm.
- The child must be taken into custody in the most humane and dignified way possible.
- The rescued child will be immediately brought to a diagnostic and assessment center for appropriate orientation and evaluation. He/she will be allowed to contact his/her parents or guardian.
- If deemed necessary that the child must be taken to a child care or temporary shelter, a proper turn over must be done and documented.
- After reach out, the child’s case must be continuously managed and monitored by a designated social worker.
After the operation, a post-evaluation will be conducted by the reach out team and a feedback report will be sent to the individual who reported the case.
Need for stronger inter-agency, public cooperation
Sec. Taguiwalo explained the need to inform the public on the process of reaching out to street kids.
“We want to avoid indiscriminate handling and violation of children’s rights during reach out operations. So, please bear with us if the process of reaching out to children takes time. We also want the public to be aware of these processes so that they will be proactive in reporting and in assisting in reach out operations,” she said.
Moreover, Sec. Taguiwalo stressed the need to increase inter-agency coordination during reach out operations.
“DSWD cannot solely implement reach out operations for street kids. We need tighter coordination with LGUs, barangays, the police, and the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) to effectively do these operations. We call for a stronger coordination with these agencies to reduce the vulnerability of children and families at risk on the streets,” the Secretary said.
No to alms-giving
Aside from reporting cases of street kids, the Secretary also reminded the public to refrain from alms-giving that encourages kids to roam the streets especially during the coming Christmas season.
“We understand how many of us feel sorry for the street children who clamber up jeepneys asking for alms and are moved by compassion to give them money. While we mean well by doing this, this actually serves to encourage children to continue doing this dangerous activity — they can get seriously injured as they get on and off jeepneys or run through traffic to go after vehicles and passengers. If we really cannot help ourselves, we can give food instead,” she said.
Sec. Taguiwalo also encouraged generous individuals and groups to organize community Christmas parties or caroling sessions for the children. People can also donate to the DSWD and other organizations that help street children, or implement charity drives wherein all the proceeds can go to the DSWD and its units with programs for street children.
“There are many ways by which we can help these children. Individually, members of the public can report where the street children are and send the DSWD the information. It’s very easy to open a Twitter account and to take pictures on cellphones to send them to us,” she said. SMS DSWD / MCAG