Tuesday, February 16, 2010


At the Elizabeth Home for Girls, a shelter for sexually-abused girls
run by Virlanie Foundation, Inc.

“Do you have memories of your real family?” the social worker asks Justin (not his real name). Justin is 16 years old and has lived in the streets for most his life. Justin shakes his head no. “But I have memories of my stepmom and dad,” he volunteers, his voice and face devoid of emotion. “They used to beat me with a chain and lock.”

As heartbreaking as it is, Justin’s story is not extraordinary. Stories of children escaping abuse or neglect at home and living out in the streets, sniffing glue to stave off hunger or going into prostitution, have become an all too familiar refrain among children who live in the streets of Manila. “I remember they would make me sell garlands,” Justin continues. “But my parents always took the money I would make. I never got to keep my money.” Justin ran away from home when he was 9, and lived in the streets before being plucked out by social workers when he was 13. Justin now lives in Caress Home for Boys, a shelter run by Virlanie Foundation.

In Manila, officials peg the number of street children at around 1,000,000 although the numbers can be as high as 8 or 9 million. Most are runaways from home, preferring the hard life of the streets to the abuse they suffer at home from the very people who were supposed to love them.

The narrative of abuse follows a general pattern: the child suffers from either emotional, physical, sexual abuse (or a combination of all three) or neglect, which compels them to run away from home and live on the streets. The child then learns to navigate his way around the dark underworld of crime, drugs and chronic hunger. Ironically, being ignored and unseen by society allows these children to thrive in the unpredictable, violent world of the streets. The darkest side of this cycle is when the child becomes an offender himself.

To be continued tomorrow...

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