Monday, July 10, 2006
Beggar, street children rounded up in Zambo
By Al Jacinto
DOZENS of street children and beggars were rounded up in downtown Zamboanga City in an effort to curb the growing number of mendicants, largely blamed for petty crimes.
Police said they rounded up at least 53 mostly children since the crackdown began Friday. They said the children were handed over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
‘The campaign to rid off vagrancy in the city streets has been going on for many years already, but these children continue coming back,’ Inspector Esperanza Santiago, chief of the Women and Children Protection Unit of the local police force, told reporters.
Police said the street children, if left unchecked, could be future criminals. Many street children were hooked on illegal drugs and some had resorted to robbery and snatching to sustain their vices.
‘That’s not true, maybe some are into drugs, but not all of us are like that. We are forced into this kind of life because of poverty. We don’t even have food on the table and my parents have no jobs. People should have a pity on us and not condemn the likes of me,’ said Orlando Santiago, a 12-year-old beggar.
Like Santiago, many street children here have similar stories to say and all blamed the lack of opportunity for a descent living and government job program for the poor.
Local politicians call the street children and beggar an eyesore that brings bad publicity to the tourism industry in Zamboanga City, but there are not enough social centers to house the mendicants and development and rehabilitation programs to teach them to be more responsible and encourage going back to school.
Some children in Zamboanga City abandoned their education to sell scraps and help feed their poor family. Other young girls and boys were forced into prostitution. Just last week, local reports said, at least 30 street children who were separately rounded up showed signs of sexually transmitted diseases.
Help comes seldom for street children in Zamboanga City. In some instances, politicians provided them porridge, not because they care about their plight, but largely for publicity purposes. Politicians give more, many every Christmas time, not to street children, but to a few local organizations that take care of the elderly people and orphans.
"We have really nothing at all. We eat food that people throw away, there in the garbage. I sometimes cry and ask God why I have to suffer like this, like why my family is poor and why it is nobody is helping us. I don’t know the answers," said Felimon Cruz, 14, who have been a beggar the past six years.
Like the children in Lumbangan village in the eastern coast where the government dump is located, many also abandoned school to dig for scrap and help feed their family. There are no sustainable livelihood programs for the poor, they complained and the children are often sick in Lumbangan because of the strong stench of garbage, and worse, no politicians ever visited the area to check on the situation there.
Children, as young as two years old, are now regular diggers in the garbage dump, about 10 kilometers from the bustling downtown Zamboanga. Rodel Cabayacruz, 13, has spent half of his lifetime in Lumbangan scavenging for scrap – papers, tin cans, and even rotten food – just to be able to help his family.
"I come here every day and I don’t mind the stench. What is important to me is I bring a little money for my brother’s milk. We are so poor that my mother cannot even send me to school," he says.