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1.7M kids call Metro slums home

February 28, 2012 ·  By Julie M. Aurelio, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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1.7M kids call Metro slums home

AT least 1.7 million children in Metro Manila are at risk of contracting diseases and developing sub-normally due to lack of food, health services, potable water, sanitation, education, family planning, decent housing, information and participation in normal activities.

Barely into his teens, “Dennis” used to retrieve stray balls from a golf course for a fee of P5 each.

That was before he and his fellow street urchins realized that Quezon City was one big quarry for anyone who had their youthful speed and daring.

In their first robbery attempt on a jeepney plying the University of the Philippines, however, Dennis’s inexperience showed: He was the last to flee the scene and was the first to get caught by authorities.

This real-life example was cited in a United Nations forum yesterday to show how major urban centers like Metro Manila, despite upscale developments typified by golf courses, remain a place of “multiple deprivations” for a growing number of minors brought in by the tide of migration from the provinces.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) released a report titled “The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World,” which noted that 49 percent of the country’s population—or 45.6 million—now live in cities.

The figure is expected to go up to 77 percent by 2030, “largely driven by a strong rural-urban migration trend,” it added.

The report predicted that in a few more years, most children will be growing up in cities rather than in rural areas around the world.

The agency estimated that out of Metro Manila’s 11.5 million residents, some 1.7 million children in 570,000 households now live in the squalor of informal settlements.

“When we think of poverty, the image that traditionally comes to mind is that of a child in a rural village. But today, an increasing number of children living in slums and shanty towns are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in the world, deprived of the most basic services and denied the right to live,” Unicef executive director Anthony Lake said in a statement.

“Excluding these children in slums not only robs them of the chance to reach their full potential; it robs their societies of the economic benefits of having a well-educated, healthy urban population,” Lake added.

Cities worldwide may be the best showcase of an economic boom, but the greatest economic and social disparities are most felt in urban areas, the report said.

In Metro Manila, only 69 percent of these children’s families have access to clean water, and 89 percent have access to toilets.

Children from the slums still achieve 90-percent enrollment rate in urban areas but only 72 percent complete basic education, Unicef added.

Urban poor children are also less likely to be breastfed compared to their rural counterparts; 83 percent of children in the slums are breastfed, compared to 92 percent in the countryside.

Mothers in urban slums spend an average of only about seven months breastfeeding their babies, compared to the 17 months allotted by their rural counterparts.

Unicef representative Dr. Abdul Alim said cities may offer children material advantages like schools, clinics and playgrounds as well as disparities in access to health, education and other needs.

And yet, Alim said, “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.”

But perhaps the most telling measure of urban poverty’s toll on youngsters can be seen in the alarming number of children falling early into the world of crime.

In the same forum, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo reported that from 1995 to 2000, 52,500 children in conflict with the law were arrested nationwide.

The figure translated to 10,500 arrests a year—or one child per hour, Robredo said.

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