Sunday Essays: Challenging Christmas

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Saturday, December 14, 2013

SHIMMERING lights. Abundant food stock for noche buena. Gifts from manito and manita. Candies. Santa Claus. New toys. Happy family.

These are the images that a normal child is expecting when Christmas season is coming.

But behind those glorious images lies the truth that most of us neglect -- that there are children out there who expect a very different Yuletide season.

Smoke from vehicle. Danger from strangers. Food scavenging. Begging for gift or even a penny from total strangers who constantly ignore them.

Christmas season is finally here and so is those street children caroling and begging for some food or coins across every major street in the metropolis.

For the average child, going outdoors is a happy time with the family. For a street child, it's called survival.

It's has been a tradition in the Philippines that people are somehow obliged to carol every house in the neighborhood and start singing the classic Filipino Christmas song, "Sa May bahay ang aming bati."

One social truth will definitely tell us that most of the children who carol in front of our houses or knock at our cars' windows are children neglected or being forced to work for their families for a living.

Tomoo Hozumi, the Unicef country representative in the Philippines, said that in 2012 there are over 246,000 street children in the Philippines without any hope of having a better future.

They are unloved, neglected and forced to live a life of danger.

At an early age when these children should be inside a home with a loving family on Christmas day, they are forced to learn survival skills the hard way on the streets of uncertainty.

Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) discourages the general public to give alms to caroling street children.

Because giving them alms is like supporting one of the most hideous crimes in our society, child labor.

Their singing is equivalent to begging, which is against Presidential Decree No. 1563 (or the Anti-Mendicancy Law).

Parents and/or syndicates found guilty of forcing children to beg in the streets can be held criminally liable under Article 59 of Presidential Decree No. 603 (or the Child and Youth Welfare Code).

They can be penalized with two to six months imprisonment or a fine not exceeding P500, or both, depending on the court's decision.

If DSWD rescues a street child for the third time, they will be obliged to refuse to return them to their parents.

"It is the duty of parents and guardian to protect their children and allow them to live in a desirable and suitable environment free from any form of abuse," Esperanza Cabral, former DSWD secretary, said.

Caroling on the streets is a great risk in a child's life. He can squeeze himself between vehicles and tap on car windows, or those who jump from moving public utility vehicles, unaware of the danger to his life.

Every time we hear a street child sing us, "Merry Christmas! na mal'walhati!," can we try to return the greeting and help them instead of sending them away?

We can help them through reporting or sending them to DSWD or nongovernment organizations.

They have facilities and partner organizations that will help these helpless children recover from physical, mental, spiritual trauma.

These facilities and organizations don't just help these rescued children recover, they also have educational programs that will help these children have a better life.

Because every time we neglect their presence, the bright future that might be waiting for them might just be put in vain.

We might never know that the ragged, dirty child begging for a simple Christmas gift from you would be the one and only hope of this ill-fated country.

Christmas is love. Christmas signifies giving. Christmas means helping. (Khrist Ian Abog Maestre)

***

Sunday Essays are articles written by students of Ateneo de Davao for their journalism subject.

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