Background Information about Street Children of the Philippines

The term street children was coined in the mid-1980’s to identify children who had chosen to spend the majority of their time in the streets trying to earn a living. In almost every major city and large town in different parts of the world-especially in the countries of the Third World—their numbers are increasing. They ply sidewalks, hang around shopping centers and market places, run in major through-fares between traffic stops-begging, offering services like car washing, baggage carrying, and selling various items such as cigarettes, newspapers, candies, pieces of rag, and sometimes even their bodies. Ranging from 5-18 years of age, they are mostly children of the urban poor. They live along the margins of urban centers, often in conditions of abject poverty. Most of the children have suffered from some form of grave physical abuse, gross neglect or complete abandonment.

In the Philippines, the street children began to be visible by the late 1970’s. Then, they were called vagrants or “pick up” children since they were being picked up by the police for violating the anti-vagrancy law. The observant Filipino could easily see then that these children were in the streets in increasing numbers, not to play as Filipino children are wont to do in the streets, but to earn a living. Furthermore, the observer would easily see that these children were working and living in the streets without supervision of adults.

Questions & Answers

What cause them to go to the streets?

Poverty as a result of the socioeconomic and political conditions in the late 1980s, is frequently cited as the leading cause of the exploitation of children. The children come from very poor families most of them are forced to stop going to school and they go instead to the streets to earn. However going beyond poverty, the breakdown of traditional family and community values and structures serves as a major factor in the increase of children on the streets. Symptoms of such breakdown include the neglect and abuse of children, dysfunctional parents who could not adequately care for their children, lack of support from the traditional extended family system, abuse of drugs by the parents themselves and/or by other members of the family, domestic violence, lack of employment opportunities, lack of access to basic services in the community, congestion in slum areas, deterioration of values permitting exploitation of children, and finally break-up of families.

Who are the Filipino street children?

In the Philippines, there are three different categories of street children: children on the streets, children of the streets and completely abandoned children.

  1. Children on the streets are those who work on the street but do not live there. They make up about 70%-75% of the street children in the Philippines. Although some of them have stopped school altogether and work full-time in the streets, many still go to school and work long hours before or after their classes. At the end of each working day, they return home.

  2. Children of the street on the other hand are those who live and work on the streets. They make up 25%-30% of the street children in the Philippines. This group of children sees the streets as their home and from where they seek income, food and shelter. They recreate a sort of family among their companions. They may have some family connections but they regard these ties as bad and rarely visit their families.

  3. Completely abandoned and neglected children are those who are entirely on their own for physical and psychological survival. They make up about 5%-10% of the street children in the Philippines. They are the true children of the streets.


Similar to the situation in other parts of the world, there are more male than female street children in the Philippines, ranging from 56% to 90% boys. Although their ages range from 5-18 years old, most of them are 11-14 years of age.

Family Composition

They come from large families, they are rarely experience love and caring at home. Many have been maltreated by their parents or relatives. A majority of the children have reached the elementary school level of education, but only a small percentage actually completed grade school. As high as 40% among the females have not gone to school at all. This suggests a traditional cultural bias in favor of boys when it comes to education. About 50%-70% of the children come from the rural areas and many of them migrate to the cities with their families is search for better work.

Break With Parental Attachments

Children who come to the cities on their own cite neglect and or abuse at home, death or separation of parents, search for a lost kin or relative as the main reasons for leaving home.

History of Caretakers

The parents of the street children generally have low levels of education and are employed as unskilled or semi-skilled workers, thereby generating low income that is often not sufficient to meet basic needs.

Kinds of Work Street Children Engage in on the Streets

The children work in the streets from 6 to 14 hours a day. Their most common jobs include vending, cleaning and washing cars, begging, carrying heavy bags and baskets as baggage boys, drug trafficking and prostitution. A street child can do a variety of jobs like scavenging in the morning, washing a car in the afternoon and begging in the evening. The average income of a street child is about twelve to twenty-five pesos (or roughly twenty-five to fifty cents to one US dollar) a day. A large portion of these earnings is spent for food and school and a part goes to the family.

How They Spend Their Free Time

When the children are not working, they try to catch up with childhood by playing, or resting and sleeping, watching movies, gambling and in some cases abusing substances.

Drugs They Commonly Take

The most common substances are inhalants, like solvent/rugby and cough syrups, followed by marijuana and shabu. Marijuana and shabu in particular are drugs that are shared with friends whenever one “barkada” member is lucky enough to have money to buy them. Moreover, many street children take more drugs more than once, some as often as a daily intake of solvent/rugby.

Health Problems and Hazards

Generally, street children are thin, untidy, and undernourished, hardly equipped to survive the hazards of everyday living and working on the streets. Some of the hazards they face include sickness, physical injuries from vehicular accidents, street fights, harassment from both extortionists and police, sexual exploitation by pedophiles and pimps, exposure to substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

“Barkadas” (Gangs)

To survive the hazards of the streets, street children usually join groups called “barkadas” that they see as a source of support and protection. They become even more rooted in the subculture of the streets where they get introduced to activities like pickpocket, theft, prostitution, drug trafficking and drug abuse.

How They Perceive The World

Street children generally express a negative view of the world. They see it as sad, cruel, not nourishing, difficult hostile and full of pain.

How They Cope With Their Problems

Street children approach their problems with some kind of escape or denial. It is their way of coping with their overwhelming difficulties and hardships as street children.

Predominant Feelings

Street children experience feelings of sadness and loneliness. Victims of sexual abuse feel the deepest kind of sadness, characterized by despair, hurt, being unloved and abandoned, ruined, confused and helpless. Substance abusers sadness is characterized by a feeling of isolation with hostility and deep anger. Children in conflict with the law is characterized by a longing for love and intimacy but also with anger and intense aggression followed by regret and remorse.

What They Often Think About

The majority of street children are preoccupied with thoughts about their parents and family.

Their Perceptions Towards Family and Peers

Street children view their family as “magulo” [chaotic] and broken. All have great longing for caring parents and family unity. On the other hand, all view their peers positively, as good, helpful and a source of support and happiness.

How They View Themselves

Most have a negative self-concept. They all want to be good and to have others see them as being good.

Wishes and Ambitions

They all wish for family unity and togetherness and a chance to finish their studies. They aspire to go back to school, to strive and be patient and have the desire to change.

Moral View

It is important to emphasize the longer the child has been in the streets, the beginning erosion of conscience and values. All seem to see God as one who can help them, thus revealing their faith and sense of hope. In this respect the children pray to be reunited with their families and forgiveness.

Interventions and Strategies

There are several innovative approaches to help to meet the needs of street children. These are community-based, the center-based and the street-based.

The community-based approach is largely preventive, addressing the problem where it starts, the family and community of the the child. Programs and services include providing street children with educational assistance for formal and non-formal education as well as other forms of alternative education. It also offers their families opportunities and resources to attain better and regular income, and training parents on responsible parenthood, especially in the care and protection of the young.

The center-based approach is curative and restorative. It involves putting up a shelter where abandoned and homeless children can find a home. Drop-in centers usually provide children with food and shelter for the night. Some temporary shelters provide longer and lasting services. among these are medical and social treatment for physical injuries and emotional trauma suffered, the restoration and rehabilitation of impaired social functioning sending the children to school, developing their skills, and preparing them for gainful occupation. Some centers also offer foster care and adoption services.

The street based approach reaches out to children in their street or places of work. Street educators conduct informal dialogues with the children to get to know them, understand their situation, offer assistance, and impart desirable values. This approach applies to children who are not prepared to give up the little adventures and fortune in the streets for the structured atmosphere in the centers. It is a reaching out gesture, to let the children know that there is assistance available to them should they need it and where to get it.


Listen to their Inner Voice, Street Children Speak, Ma. Lourdes Arellano-Carandang

Resiliency, Stories Found in Philippine Streets, Cornelio G. Banaag, Jr., M.D.

Situation Analysis on Children in Conflict with the Law and the Juvenile Justice System, UNICEF

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