Every day, after school, Danny (not his real name), 13, would dig and sort rubbish from the squalid shoreline of Baseco, considered one of the largest poor urban communities in Manila, and sell whatever he found of value to junkshops.
Danny never thought scavenging a dangerous task. In his young mind, he was only doing what most adults and children commonly do in his community. Scavenging is part of the daily life in Danny’s shanty town where people are used to the putrid smell of garbage and human waste thrown in the nearby the shoreline of Manila Bay.
Danny said the largest he earned was Php85 and he gave it to his mother. On other days, he earned an average of Php10 for a sack of used bottles, cans and plastics he picked up for an hour or so.
“I buy candies with my money,” he said.
Candies is a luxury in Danny’s life whose parents have a combined income of around Php500 a day for selling food and driving a passenger bike. The income supports a family of eight, pays for house rent and other bills, and the children’s daily school allowance. With limited budget, his parents couldn’t give him beyond the basic necessities, which made Danny joined other children in scavenging.
Cecille, Danny’s mother, condones his son’s scavenging. “I sometimes join him in collecting trashes,” she said casually.
“Scavenging is an unlikely start for young children. Sometimes, once they’ve experienced earning, they would stop going to school,” Loida Payne, World Vision program officer in Manila, said.
A haven for children
The 2016 US Department of Labor report on the worst form of child labors in the Philippines showed nearly 2 million Filipino children aged 5-14 are engage in child labor, of which 40.5 percent are into services such as domestic work, begging, scavenging and street selling.
In an interview with 100 child scavengers in Baseco, Manila, World Vision found out that many of the children spend 6 to 7 days a week and allot 3 to 5 hours on the streets and around the community looking for scrap materials that can be sold, and they merely earn Php20 to Php50 per day.
The data compelled World Vision and its community partners and government agencies to establish several child-friendly spaces (CFS) in the community through the Sagip Bata (save a child) project. Though CFS is usually done in an emergency context, it was adopted for the purpose of developing a feeling of love and care among child scavengers and to strengthen the community’s mechanism in addressing child abuses.
“Child scavengers were consulted on how they want the child-friendly spaces to look like and what they want to see in it,” Payne said.
The Sagip Bata project established six CFS managed by two churches, two schools and two non-governmental organizations. The community people and the child scavengers designed their haven, which is far from the smell and sight of garbage. The CFS offered children comfort through various activities such as storytelling, singing, dancing and even tutorial on school lessons.
Being a child
“I remember my teacher once told us that children have the right to have a good life, that we should be playing and studying and not working,” Danny said.
When he got home that day, he asked his mother about it. “Look around us, how can I can tell my child that he should be living in a place opposite of what he usually sees every day? He wouldn’t easily understand,” Cecille explained. “I told Danny, ‘It means you should be in school and have food on the table.'”
According to Payne, “Scavenging is a complex problem in a community like Manila. It cannot be solved in a short period of time. It signifies not only poverty but other factors such as poor family relationship and low aspiration of a child or parents,” she said.
Child scavengers are also at risk of contracting diseases such as diarrhea, tuberculosis and skin infection. Looking at Danny, he is thin and small for his age. His eyes show the bleak reality that he faces every day.
The six CFS still works in Baseco and have assisted thousands of children since 2014.
Danny still goes out to scavenge but has now plenty of time to play. In a recent World Vision visit, Danny was enjoying his school vacation playing basketball with other teens.World Vision/April 4, 2018
World Vision is a global Christian relief, development and advocacy organisation dedicated to working with children, families and communities to overcome poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.