© UNICEF Philippines/2012/Lovell
10 year old Reynold gets up, goes to work and helps provide for his family. Every afternoon, he goes to the local market in Manila to scrounge around for leftover vegetables which he then resells.
by Pam Pagunsan
I first met Reynold at the back of a mobile education van parked along the river side at Binondo, Manila. Reynold, age 10, was one of the fifteen or so children huddled at the back of the van watching a short film. It was movie night for Reynold and the rest of the mobile education class of Childhope Philippines.
Reynold lives with his family in an old wooden cart on the outskirts of the market, unprotected from the elements and vulnerable to disease and dangers of the streets. He is a manggugulay (vegetable scavenger) in Divisoria, Manila’s largest and busiest public market. His father works odd jobs while his mother takes care of his two younger siblings. Reynold works to augment their income by scavenging from vegetable sellers and re-selling their leftovers. The unsold vegetables make up their lunch or dinner for the day.
“When I wake up, my mother will cook rice, and after we eat, I would sell vegetables so we will have lunch and dinner. The money we earn, we use to buy food. If there is any to spare, we also buy rice even if there is no viand,” Reynold shared.
At such a young age, Reynold, like most of his friends have to work just so they can eat. “Sometimes I earn 20 pesos, sometimes, 60 pesos. I use it to buy food, and then we sell more vegetables. I give my siblings money and food, too. Sometimes we are asked to leave our spot, and sometimes, children are taken away.”
It’s a heavy burden on such frail shoulders but he still manages to smile through it. I asked him what his dreams were and he shared “I wish my dad will have a big salary so we can go back to Cavite. I wish my uncle is there and he would be nice to us and take care of us.” And for his personal dream, “I want to study hard so I can become a doctor so I could help people.”
Reynold and his family. ©UNICEF Philippines/2012/Lovell
It is difficult to know how thousands of children live and work on streets in towns and cities around the country, where they are at risk of hunger, violence, abuse and exploitation. In the Philippines, UNICEF with the government and partners like ChildHope are working to provide essential services for vulnerable children as well as preventive services for children. They are provided mobile education, regular health clinics, nutritious food and counselling support, as well as working to get them off the streets and into a safe community environment.
Reynold and his friends attend alternative education sessions in church and on the streets. ©UNICEF Philippines/2012/Lovell
Children in an Urban World
Reynold’s story is not new. It’s a story that is echoed in most developing countries around the world. The recent UNICEF report The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World reveal that globally, urbanization leaves hundreds of millions of children in cities and towns excluded from vital services.
Already the Philippines is an urban society with half the population or 45 million people living in cities. Of Metro Manila’s 11 million people, 1.7 million children live in informal settlements.
“Children who live in the poorest urban communities in the Philippines experience multiple deprivations. They lack decent housing, are exposed to dangers from disasters, have limited access to clean water and are more prone to neglect, abuse and exploitation. Each excluded child represents a missed opportunity at achieving a stable and productive society,” Dr. Abdul Alim, UNICEF Deputy Representative, says.
Cities offer many children the advantages of urban schools, clinics and playgrounds. Yet the same cities the world over are also the settings for some of the greatest disparities in children’s health, education and opportunities.
Infrastructure and services are not keeping up with urban growth in many regions and children’s basic needs are not being met. Families living in poverty often pay more for substandard services. Water, for instance, can cost 50 times more in poor neighbourhoods where residents have to buy it from private vendors than it costs in wealthier neighbourhoods where households are connected directly to water mains.
The deprivations endured by children in poor urban communities are often obscured by broad statistical averages that lump together all city dwellers – rich and poor alike. When averages such as these are used in making urban policy and allocating resources, the needs of the poorest can be overlooked.
Making cities fit for children
A focus on equity is crucial – one in which priority is given to the most disadvantaged children wherever they live.
UNICEF urges governments to put children at the heart of urban planning and to extend and improve services for all. To start, more focused, accurate data are needed to help identify disparities among children in urban areas and how to bridge them. The shortage of such data is evidence of the neglect of these issues.
While governments at all levels can do more, community-based action is also a key to success. The report calls for greater recognition of community-based efforts to tackle urban poverty and gives examples of effective partnerships with the urban poor, including children and adolescents.