Filipino street children, in fact, are a part of the papal visit, and they are not caged to make the streets clean, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said on Thursday.
As the main agency that promotes and protects the welfare of disadvantaged children, the DSWD vehemently denied that the street children had been caged to sanitize the streets for the Pope Francis, as reported also on Thursday by Daily Mail Online, a publication in the United Kingdom.
DSWD Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman said the Philippine government does not cage children.
“We do not tolerate this practice. We put child abusers in jail,” Soliman pointed out.
The DSWD, together with local government units, she said, has been working to keep the children off the streets because of dangers to their safety and health.
For the pope’s visit, according to Soliman, the government ensured that the street children would have a role in it.
“We are not hiding the children. In fact, more than 400 street children will be singing during the send-off for Pope Francis on Monday [January 19]. They have been practicing since December [last year]. The Pope will see and interact with them,” she said.
These children, the Social Welfare secretary disclosed, are beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Program for Street Children, which offers a package of services, including education for the children and livelihood packages for their parents.
They are also beneficiaries of the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer Program (MCCT), which gives the children cash assistance for their school and health needs, as well as for house rental.
For 2014 alone, some 850 families were served under the MCCT in Metro Manila.
Also joining send-off activities for Francis are children who have been abandoned and those undergoing rehabilitation in DSWD centers and institutions.
“Reaching out to street children is a regular program of the department meant to keep them off the streets where it is dangerous for their health and safety. The MCCT is also a continuing program for them, since 2013. We are not doing all these for the pope’s visit,” Soliman said.
She also pointed out that some of the photos published together with the Daily Mail Online article were photos taken in the past.
“Corrective measures have been undertaken since the time that reports [on the alleged caging]came out,” Soliman said.
She cited the photo of “Federico,” showing him as severely malnourished, which had been taken before the boy was assisted.
“Federico has already gained weight and is being cared for by an NGO [non-government organization working] with DSWD. We have found his mother and we are doing case work management with the mother,” Soliman explained.
Meanwhile, the Social Welfare secretary has ordered an investigation of allegations of abuse in children’s centers in Paranaque City and Pasay City, both in Mero Manila.
For the Manila Reception Action Center, Soliman said the DSWD is in the process of closing the facility.
“We are transferring the children-residents to other DSWD-licensed NGOs and DSWD-managed facilities,” Soliman said.