Briones: Helping children on the streets

IT’S hard to imagine that kids as young as 13 would be in a gang roaming the streets past their bedtime. It’s even harder to imagine that the gang would have female members whose initiation either involved getting the paddle or having sex with existing members.

But that’s exactly the story Maria (not her real name) told authorities after she was picked up along with five others in Barangay Pajo, Lapu-Lapu City earlier this week for violating the curfew ordinance.

What was more shocking was the discovery that she and her companions tested positive of sexually transmitted infection (STI). And that there might 18 more gang members out there who are afflicted with the disease.

That’s why Barangay Captain Junard Chan wants to find them immediately so they can be tested and treated if found positive.

Chan had learned that the children were melting laundry soap in boiled water and drinking it to self-medicate.

Meanwhile, he said that the City Health Office has already offered free medication to anyone who has STI.

When she learned about the news, Mayor Paz Radaza ordered police and barangays to strictly implement the curfew for minors.

And from now on, any minor who is rescued in Barangay Pajo will have to be tested for STI in the presence of their parents or guardians. After that, they will be turned over to the adults who are supposed to be responsible for them.

Chan had earlier warned parents or guardians that he would charge them with child abandonment if their wards are “rescued” three times.

For 13-year-old Maria, it was apparent that she preferred life on the streets with her new “fam” than living with her grandmother.

From the looks of it, her parents dumped her with the latter when they separated, which might explain why the girl thinks they don’t care for her anymore that’s why she ran away.

But what disturbed me was her nonchalant attitude towards sex.

Maria confessed that she contracted STI a year ago. That would make her 12. But she didn’t say that that was when she lost her virginity. Either way, her revelation suggests that she has been sexually active for quite some time.

“Nada na lang ko sa barkada (I caved in to peer pressure)” was her explanation.

I’m not here to judge Maria. I don’t even know her whole story. After all, a kid that age would not voluntarily leave home unless she felt the conditions were intolerable and she had to get out.

Her father showed up at the barangay hall to fetch her. He assured her that she would be taken care of.

Forgive me, but I’m not crossing my fingers, although I do hope that things work out for Maria.

It’s clear that her family has failed her, which forced her and her companions to rely on others for a sense of identity, for protection and for fellowship.

I just hope they realize that they have an ally in Pajo’s barangay captain.
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