SOS Children’s Villages Philippines Advocates For Alternative Child Care At Policy Forum
Children without parental care are the most vulnerable ones to exploitation, abuse, and neglect. There is an estimated 1.8 million of them in the Philippines alone. Due to poverty, death of parents, household violence, and armed conflicts, the number of children who lost or are at risk of losing parental care is rapidly increasing.
Children losing parental care
Take the case of Jeremy – his father passed away when he was just six years old. For a young child like him, losing his father meant more than just losing a parental figure. Jeremy, who should already have started attending school, missed his chance because there was no one to support his education. Owning a school bag, notebooks, and school uniform seemed like a distant dream for Jeremy and his five other siblings.
CJ shared a similar story too. Shortly after the death of his father, CJ’s mother disappeared from his and his four siblings’ lives when she got into a relationship with another man. If not for the kindness of their relatives, CJ and his siblings would have nothing to eat.
Jeneth and Jeny, on the other hand, still have both of their parents. However, young Jeneth and Jeny together with their four siblings were forced to toughen up to survive. At the age of ten, Jeneth had to act as a parent to her four younger siblings when their mother left them with their alcoholic father. At nights when her siblings couldn’t bear their hunger, she’d knock on their neighbor’s doors and ask for leftover rice. This, as well as mongo soup and unripe saba bananas had become their staple meals for the four years they lived with their father.
Jeneth (leftmost) and Jeny (second from the right) is together with their siblings and cousins. (1991)
Unlike the four others who knew their parents, Leonilo has no recollection of his biological family; having grown up in SOS Children’s Village in Tacloban since he was six months old. The youngest among eight siblings, Leonilo was brought to the children’s village by his sister when a childbirth-related illness took their mother’s life.
Leonilo (rightmost) poses for their family picture with his SOS Mother, Nanay Nila. (1989)
Even though these living testimonies faced different struggles, all of them had experienced and suffered from inadequate parental care. Child abandonment and neglect has long been a problem in the country, fueled by poverty and family breakdown. And efforts in legislating and enforcing laws to protect these children’s rights needs to be strengthened.
Alternative Child Care Bill
It was only in 2016 that the Alternative Child Care (ACC) bill that aims to protect the right of children without parental care to have an alternative family has been filed and until now is still under review in the congress. Despite the lack of similar bills in the earlier years, it did not stop the local government units, non-government organizations, and other government officials from doing its work to alleviate the issue on homeless or parentless children.
In the ACC Policy Forum held last November 20, Representative Acosta-Alba, one of the authors of ACC bill, expressed, “rest assured that we will push thru with this, will be more active for the passage of the bill, and will work to make sure that this bill sees the light of day.”
Hon. Ma. Lourdes Acosta-Alba commends SOS Children’s Villages Philippines for providing a family-like environment to children who have lost parental care.
Representative Edgar Sarmiento of 1st District Western Samar pushes for the speedy process and hearing of the bill and says, “we have to do something about this. If not, it will be more difficult for the future generation of our country. If we want the direction of children to point towards the betterment of this country, then we have to start right.”
Rep. Sarmiento speaks in behalf of his brother, Mel Sarmiento who is a board member of SOS Children’s Villages Philippines. The two brothers have been long-time supporters of SOS CV Philippines.
The forum discussed the need to advocate for the Alternative Child Care bill which presses the State to ensure that all children without parental care are given an alternative family. Adoption, foster care, kinship care, residential care, and family-like care are some of the child care options mentioned in the bill.
Since 1967, SOS Children’s Villages Philippines has been running a family-like care program which gives a normal family environment to orphaned, abandoned, and neglected children. All the needs of children such as food, education, and health care are provided so that they can be empowered to grow into independent and self-sustaining individuals just like Jeremy, CJ, Jeneth, Jeny, and Leonilo.
Success in Family-Like Care
During the forum, Jeremy fondly shared his memory of wearing a school bag for the first time, and how overjoyed and excited he was to go to school. This happened in the first year he and his siblings found their new home in SOS Children’s Village in Manila. He is now a senior high school student and a youth leader. Jeremy plans on taking up Political Science and pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer.
Meanwhile, CJ is now a second-year college student taking up Aircraft Maintenance Technology. He attributes his success to SOS Children's Villages; recounting that it is through the support of SOS and the encouragement he received from the people he has met through SOS that he can continue to reach for his dreams.
Jeneth and Jeny no longer worry about making ends meet. Jeneth is now an owner of a therapy center in Cavite providing help for children with special needs. Jeny who studied Psychology assists Jeneth in running the therapy center. Together, they help children who went through traumatic experiences to cope and recover. This is their way of paying their blessings forward, after receiving hope and healing from SOS Children’s Villages.
To pay their blessings forward, sisters Jeneth (left) and Jenny (right) are now running a therapy center for children with special needs.
Leonilo was also able to finish his studies and now has a family of his own. After graduating with a degree in Psychology, Leonilo went to law school and worked for a private company. However, his strong desire to give back to the children’s village brought him to Davao where he is now the village director of the only SOS children’s village in Mindanao.
“Who will take care of those children who are not qualified for residential care, foster care, short term care, or legal guardianship? This is why we need more alternative care options.” – Leonilo Rivero, Former SOS Child and Current Village Director of SOS Children’s Village in Davao
In spite of the challenges these individuals faced, they were able to overcome and arise from their difficult situations. They were all once children who were helpless and were running out of hope of a better tomorrow. But all they needed was proper care to grow and succeed.
Children need stability and support in order to experience holistic growth. In family-like care, children are ensured of a permanent home and loving family. This family helps them access the basic services they need such as education, health care, and nutrition.
The passage of the new Alternative Child Care Bill will mean that family-like care as a form of alternative care will be recognized by the law. SOS Children’s Villages Philippines is hopeful that more children in need of parental care can receive family-like care and more children will have the chance to reach their dreams and see a brighter future.