MANILA, Philippines -- Government operations to rescue street children in Manila are ineffective, indiscriminate, involuntary, done for the wrong reasons, and seen by the supposed beneficiaries as arrests, an Australian volunteer for the nongovernmental organization Bahay Tuluyan said.
Catherine Scerri, who has been helping educate street children in Manila for the past six years, said the situation has gotten worse as the number of ?rescues? increases.
The situation ?has not gotten better and could be worse. Rescue for us is not effective,? she said in an interview during the launching of the new mobile Bahay Tuluyan van at the house of Australian embassy charge d?affaires Stephen Scott.
The van, called Ikot Star, goes to four areas in Manila where there are a significant number of street children -- Del Pan, Quiapo, Osmeña, and under the flyover in Pandacan -- where volunteers provide alternative education, give first aid and food, and interview the children about their concerns.
The Australian and New Zealand Association, which holds an annual charity ball, donated the customized van to replace the one the NGO used before.
The van was bought from the P1.04 million it raised last year.
Scerri said government rescue operations see the children as eyesores that need to be kept off the streets. With batons, handcuffs, and guns sometimes used in these operations, the children therefore see them as arrests and not rescues.
?About 30 percent of those who were rescued were sleeping, so the children wake up in the shelters thinking they were kidnapped,? she said.
?For us, these operations must be about child protection, for their safety,? she said.
Scerri told of a street child who has been ?rescued? 59 times and has kept going back to the streets. This, she pointed out, only shows that the program ?is not working.?
?It?s not effective and it?s happening for the wrong reasons,? she said.
Asked to describe the situation of street children now, she said it is characterized by a ?massive lack of services.?
?Right now, we are working with government for policy reforms to improve programs and services,? she said.
Scerri noted that government solutions are not long-term. ?They do not address the reasons why the children are in the streets in the first place,? she said.
These children and their families need in-city, low-cost housing; alternative education; and affordable health services, she said.
?Their families must be economically stable, because if not, the children will go out to the streets,? she said.
Scerri said street children cannot be forced to live in shelters. She said many of them live in the streets and have learned to survive there; their sense of identity is connected to the streets.
These children may not be able to survive in a residential setting, she said.
?They are free spirits. They have learned to fend for themselves since they were four or five. They have a different way of life,? she said.
?Any solution must involve knowing the kids. It?s better to let them find their own solution than telling them this is the solution,? she added.
1998 estimates of the Department of Social Welfare and Development put the number of street children in 65 major cities in the country at around 220,000.