There are an estimated 44, 435 visible street children in the Philippines– 11, 346 of which are in Metro Manila alone.*
A street child–as defined by UNICEF–is a child who works and lives in the streets and markets of cities, selling or begging, and either living with, or lacking contact with, their families. Many are subjected to gang violence, sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, and prostitution.
Today, Jason and I hit the streets.
Walking through Metro Manila at night is like an urban maze of loud streets and neon lights. There are hundreds of people occupying the streets, sizzling up food, bargaining for trinkets, selling cigarettes by the stick. We weaved in and out of the traffic of people, overstimulated by the activity and trying to keep pace with ACTION missionary Raffy Sison.
Raffy informed us that street kids only come out at night. Begging is illegal in the Philippines, so they work the streets as jeepney cleaners or cigarette sellers, hoping to make a few pesos in tips. The street is a hard life, he explains, and your best chance of survival is to be nocturnal.
My heart speeds up as we walk the streets, my eyes darting around looking for what could be a “street kid.” This is our first encounter with children on the streets, meeting them where they’re at, on their turf, their reality, and I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I’ve heard stories about the kids we worked with at camp from other missionaries, about what life was like for them on the streets, before intervention. And now we’re here, meeting kids who haven’t been to camp yet. This is what we came here to do.
Raffy stopped and pointed out a couple boys across the street directing a jeep driver. They were helping him back out of a parking spot and onto the street, a difficult feat in downtown Manila. I held my breath as one of the boys stepped directly into oncoming traffic, maneuvering between lanes, motioning the jeep into a break in the line of cars. I wondered how many pesos of tip was worth facing Manila traffic.
“Those are street boys,” Raffy said. “One of them used to be in my Kids Home (a boys shelter), but he decided to go back to the streets.”
I examined them as they continued to direct the jeep. They hadn’t struck me as street kids right away. I had seen kids working traffic before, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they may not have parents or homes.
We walked a bit further and spotted a group of girls sitting in front of a drug store wall. When we approached them, I noticed one was holding a baby.
We offered them some crackers and sat down with them. Chatting was difficult with the language barrier, but Raffy explained that the baby was the sixth child of one of the girls. We passed him around, and I found a tick on him. One of the other girls quickly flicked it away.
I sat next to Mary Jane. She was putting make-up on when we first arrived. She silently looped her arm through mine as I sat watching the baby eat the crumbs from the cracker packaging. I talked of our experience in the Philippines so far, that she reminded me of one of my cousins. She mostly listened, nodding occasionally.
I found out later that she was prostituting that night. She is 16 years-old.