Do you hear the children crying, O my brothersÂ /Â â€˜Ere sorrows come with the yearsâ€?Â TheÂ Victorian poetÂ Elizabeth Barret Browning penned that poignant question moved by theÂ exploitedÂ children in a then industrializingÂ England.
AÂ century after Browning, the same question resonatesÂ in the Philippines, where urban residents became the majority. There are now 138Â cities, up from 60 in 1990.
Sixteen were created by Supreme Court flip-flopping decisions that dodged meeting population, land area or income criteria. EmboldenedÂ by the high courtâ€™s U-turns, congressmen filed bills toÂ create another 26.
InÂ expandedÂ urban settings, however,Â basic needs of children are not being met, saysÂ â€œThe State of the Worldâ€™s Children 2012â€.Â Â United Nations Childrenâ€™s Fund publishedÂ the SOWCÂ reportÂ last Tuesday.
ChildrenÂ â€œgrow up amid scarcity and deprivationâ€ in slums ofÂ Davao, Cebu,Â as well asÂ Bangkok. JakartaÂ orÂ Soweoto. In Metro ManilaÂ alone, 1.7 million ofÂ 11 million residents are children living in informal settlements.Â â€œChildren who live in the poorest urban communities in the Philippines experience multiple deprivations,â€Â UNICEF RepresentativeÂ Dr. Abdul Alim noted.
Many children are seared by â€œthe urban experience, all too often one of poverty and exclusionâ€. Clean water, health care, electricity, schools are a block away â€“ but beyond reach due to myopic governance.
A third of urban kids lackÂ basic amenities. Daily, they grapple withÂ the â€œfive deprivations of slums: dry water taps, lack of toilets, cramped makeshift houses, often razed in forced evictions.
â€œTheir urban childhoods reflect the broad disparities that cities contain: rich beside poor, opportunity beside the struggle for survival,â€ Unicef adds. Children mired in urban penury fare as badly as, or worse, thanÂ thoseÂ living in rural indigence.â€
â€œU5MRâ€ offers a good cross-check indicator. â€œU5MRâ€ â€“ what?â€, this column asked.Â Â â€œThatâ€™s shorthand for the stark â€œUnder-Five Mortality Rateâ€. Out of every 1,000 births here in 1990, there were 59 kids who never made it to age 5.
We slashed that to 29 in 2010. Today, the country is almost on par with Dominican Republic but lags behind Malaysia’s 6. As result, weâ€™re wedged at Slot 80 in an overall ranking of 193 countries. Is that good enough? Not if â€œlife is the threshold at which other hopes begin.â€
â€œThe number of the poor and undernourished wears an increasingly human face,â€ the Unicef study adds. The ill-fed poor are â€œincreasing faster in urban than in rural areasâ€¦ Even the well-fed can suffer the â€œhidden hunger of micronutrient malnutrition.â€
Here, 21 out of every 100 infants have low weight at birth. Wasting and stunting (32 percent) result when kids are nursed by wizened chronically malnourished mothers.Â Â Globally, â€œpoor nutrition contributes to more than a third of under-five deathsâ€.
Overall data shows â€œurban dwellers worldwide enjoy better access to drinking water and sanitation than people in rural settings. Even so, water and sanitation coverage to keep pace with rapid urban growth.â€
The Overseas Foreign Workersâ€™ diasporaÂ results inÂ an estimated nine million Filipino children “losing” one or both parents to migration as they migrate toÂ work abroad.
Today, roughly 3,752 leave daily for those â€œfaraway places with strange sounding namesâ€. Thatâ€™s 28 times the first clutch of timid migrants who waved pa-alam five decades back. Last year, another 1.42 million left. There were 18,436 international nuptials. For some, â€œwedding rings became visas of last resort.â€
Our fathers never imagined an exodus of 10% of the population. Swept up in a continuing diaspora, many can not recall a different past. There is consensus, too, that migration will not ebb anytime soon.
Earlier surveys show that 4 out of 10 kids, aged 10 to 12, dream of working abroad. And six out of 10 children of OFWs said they, too, would head for the exit, as did their parents, notes Scalabrini Migration Center and Commission on Filipinos Overseas. .
This â€œhemorrhageâ€ is altering beyond recognition, this nationâ€™s economy and soul as well.Â Â Â Â In three out of 10 homes, kids grew up where paychecks substituted for parents. â€œI hear confessions of children whose parents work aboard,â€ a JesuitÂ Â told me: â€œIâ€™m stunned by their confusion and pain.â€
Education is aÂ escape hatch from a lifetime of need.Â ButÂ poverty compels 33 out of every 100 children to quit school before reaching Grade 6. In five years, school dropouts here bolted from 1.8 million to 2.2 million.
OfÂ 2.5 million people in forced labor, as a result from trafficking, up to almost half are children. Many end up in brothels. â€œEvery disadvantaged child bears witness to a moral offense: (our) failure to secure his right to survive and thrive,â€ writes Unicefâ€™s Anthony Lake.
Statistical averaging masks the reality of hungry kids,Â We mustÂ strip away our blinders.Â Â In cooperation with civic groups, governmentÂ mustÂ better plans and deliver effective services for their unique needsâ€”from birth, registration to immunization, and protection from sex trafficking.
Now. NotÂ tomorrow.Â Â â€œMany of the things we need can wait. The child cannot,â€œ 1945 Nobel LaureateÂ Gabriela Mistral writes. â€œTo him we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow.’ His name is ‘Today.’ (Email :Â firstname.lastname@example.org)