The Philippines is known for its pristine beaches and warm hospitality. More than 175 different languages are spoken throughout its 7,500 tropical islands. However, our global Filipino neighbours face high rates of natural disasters, extreme poverty and child exploitation. The local church is working to bring change.

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Warning: This blog contains material that may be confronting and distressing to some readers.

As a young girl, Angelica and her family had no choice but to call the Cebu district of Lorega home. Gang violence, prostitution, drug addiction and child exploitation ran rampant. Not even urban taxi drivers would enter Lorega. It was no place for a child.

Davis is a local pastor from the area. His church partners with Compassion to deliver holistic child development programs to local children. As Davis got to know the resident families, he saw the way people in Lorega lived without hope. They believed their situation would never change.

“I asked them ‘what are your dreams?’ and most of the mothers cried. So I changed the question and I said, ‘Okay, if you don’t have a dream for yourself, what is your dream for your children?’ and they cried more,” he says.

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What is the need in the Philippines?

Over the past two decades, overall poverty levels in the Philippines have declined. Inequality has reduced as the middle class keeps growing and wages have increased. The nation’s workforce is robust, particularly in the tourism, finance and insurance industries. In the space of just three years, the nation’s poverty rate fell from 23.3 per cent of the population in 2015 to 16.6 per cent in 2018.1 By 2018, approximately 18 million Filipinos still lived under the poverty line.

However, the pathway out of poverty for this island nation has been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, just like many other lower income countries in our global neighbourhood. Eight months into lockdown restrictions, an estimated four million Filipinos became unemployed and a further eight million had their hours reduced.2

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A survey of low-income Filipino families by The World Bank showed that extended lockdowns have dramatically disrupted children’s access to healthcare and education. Childhood immunisation rates and participation in learning have dropped. These are consequences of the pandemic that “could still leave current cohorts of children behind for the rest of their lives.”3

But COVID-19 is certainly not the only crisis faced by Filipinos, and perhaps not even the largest.

The Philippines experiences an average of 26 earthquakes and typhoons every year, according to the World Bank.

These perennial disasters have the greatest physical and economic impact on the most vulnerable people in society. This is because the poorest households are usually the least able to rebuild and recover from the devastation.

In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, smashed the Philippines and other parts of southeast Asia, affecting 11 million Filipinos and killing more than 6,300. October and November 2020 saw a string of typhoons, including Goni and Vamco, that caused catastrophic flooding and subsequent damage to millions of homes and livelihoods.4 The Philippines is now ranked in the top five countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and worsening storms.5

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What does child poverty look like in The Philippines?

Poverty affects every area of a child’s life. For Angelica, poverty brought with it exposure to violent crime, drug trafficking, substance abuse and hopelessness. There are more than 40 million children living in the Philippines and over 12.5 million of those children, or about one in three, live in poverty.6 Poverty means that many Filipino children don’t get enough nutritious food, to the extent that one in three has experienced stunting and close to one in five are underweight because of malnutrition.7 A 2018 report from UNICEF found that more than 2.8 million Filipino children of school age lack access to education, with indigenous children and children with a disability disproportionately affected.

The high prevalence of natural disasters in the Philippines is a humanitarian concern for children in poverty, especially with most of the country’s population living in coastal areas. Frequent exposure to extreme weather events adversely affects children both physically and emotionally. The ongoing threat of these crises becomes a source of trauma in itself. Natural disasters can push children into poverty and prevent them from escaping it.8

Poverty also exposes children to higher rates of abuse. More than 80 per cent of Filipino children have experienced some sort of violence, including physical, psychological, sexual or online abuse.9 The online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) is an extremely serious problem in the Philippines, to the extent it has been labelled a global ‘hotspot’ for this crime by the Child Rights Network.

OSEC is a growing internet-based crime where abuse or lewd acts against children are streamed online for money. On the other side of the call are paedophiles, often based in higher income countries such as the United States, Canada or even Australia.

Many vulnerable Filipino children and families have been confined to their homes without food or income during the pandemic. This difficult reality has been a catalyst for the increased abuse of children for money. Widespread international cash transfers, cheap technology access and high rates of English also make internet-based criminal activities convenient. Local facilitators of the abuse may be trafficking groups. However, they are often relatives, friends or even parents of the child victims.

Alex Mallillin, a representative of International Justice Mission (IJM) in the Philippines, believes that OSEC is “the darkest form of exploitation against our children because it involves family members. About 38 per cent of the time, the parents are involved.”

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Compassion’s story in The Philippines

Compassion has been working in the Philippines since 1972. More than 99,000 individual children are currently registered in our Child Sponsorship Program, delivered through 395 local church partners in the Philippines. A further 1,220 vulnerable Filipino mothers and their babies also receive support through the Survival Program. Our Disaster Relief fund equips our local partners who deliver these programs with the resources and knowledge they need to provide disaster preparedness training and emergency relief.

Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program works hand-in-hand with Critical Needs to address the primary factor behind OSEC—poverty. Our global ministry has a zero tolerance policy for child abuse. Every church we partner with to deliver our programs must be committed to Compassion International’s Child Protection Policies and therefore show willingness to actively protect children from harm, intervene if harm is occurring, report allegations to abuse in a timely manner and have a desire to see children restored from harm through the appropriate supportive services.

Mary Ann is a child protection specialist for Compassion Philippines. Aware of the dangers vulnerable children face, Mary Ann helped launch a child protection awareness campaign in March 2020, immediately after lockdown began.

“Our programs and initiatives in Compassion are always mindful of protecting children,” says Mary Ann. “The dangers are real, and what we do to protect the children is real, too.”

Online lessons were provided to registered children and their families, bringing awareness of the dangers and what support was available to prevent abuse. The campaign also included online seminars and discussions for staff with local experts like IJM and World Hope International.

“We advised our church partners to be vigilant in monitoring the children and youth to prevent abuse from happening," shares Mary Ann. “If ever there will be cases, church partners are instructed to report any suspected or alleged abuse to local authorities and their national office.”

Fortunately, the vulnerability of children like Angelica is recognised by our local church partners who seek to know, love and protect each individual child in their communities.

“It’s really my dream that they can be released from poverty in all aspects and can be an influencer in their community. I always dream with our children. Because their lives have been given hope. When other children see them, it inspires others,” says local Compassion Centre Director Beth.

Angelica needed the help of a good neighbour to rise above her circumstances, and she received it. She was registered in Compassion’s program and soon sponsored. The support of her local church and sponsor helped to change the trajectory of Angelica’s life. She worked hard to break the generational cycle of poverty and has written a different story for her future. Now a qualified teacher, Angelica brings hope to students at the same child development centre she attended as a child. You can watch her story in the video below.

How you can help

From the perspectives of local workers like Beth and Pastor Davis, Lorega has changed into a better place than before. Angelica’s personal story of restoration is a testimony to the power of the local church and child sponsorship: children and their families are given the chance to dream again. Communities can be transformed by sharing hope with the next generation.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future. —Proverbs 31:25 (NLT)

You can help bring restoration to communities like Lorega by sponsoring a child today.

SPONSOR A CHILD

“When I was young, I didn’t have any hope. But then when I came to know the Lord, it made something new. I want to use my life as a living testimony to people who don’t know Christ yet,” says Angelica. “Through my sponsor, I am now a graduate student of the Bible school. I can say that God is my Redeemer. He is my cornerstone. He has done beautiful things in my life.”

Make an impact in the life of child like Angelica.

Sponsor a child in The Philippines today.




Words by Rachel Howlett with field reporting by Christian Agha and Edwin Estioko.

1 The World Bank (2021, April 7). The World Bank in the Philippines—Overview. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/philippines/overview#1

2 Reuters (2020, December 3). Philippine jobless rate eases as economy reopens from lockdown. https://www.reuters.com/article/philippines-economy-unemployment-idUSL4N2IJ0KA

3 The World Bank (2021, January 1). The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Low Income Households in the Philippines: Impending Human Capital Crisis. https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/801361614768664623/pdf/The-Impact-of-the-COVID-19-Pandemic-on-Low-Income-Households-in-the-Philippines-Impending-Human-Capital-Crisis.pdf

4 Relief Web (2021, March 25). ECHO Factsheet – Philippines. https://reliefweb.int/report/philippines/echo-factsheet-philippines-last-updated-25032021

5 UNICEF (2018). Situation Analysis of Children in the Philippines. https://www.unicef.org/philippines/media/556/file#:~:text=This%20presents%20evidence%20from%20research,progress%20on%20child%20rights%20indicators

6 UNICEF (2018). Situation Analysis of Children in the Philippines. https://www.unicef.org/philippines/media/556/file#:~:text=This%20presents%20evidence%20from%20research,progress%20on%20child%20rights%20indicators

7 UNICEF (2018). Situation Analysis of Children in the Philippines. https://www.unicef.org/philippines/media/556/file#:~:text=This%20presents%20evidence%20from%20research,progress%20on%20child%20rights%20indicators

8 Relief Web (2019, May 23). Identifying the Vulnerable to Poverty from Natural Disasters: The Case of Typhoons in the Philippines. https://reliefweb.int/report/philippines/identifying-vulnerable-poverty-natural-disasters-case-typhoons-philippines

9 UNICEF (2016, October). National Baseline Study on Violence Against Children in the Philippines. https://www.unicef.org/philippines/media/491/file/National%20Baseline%20Study%20on%20Violence%20Against%20Children%20in%20the%20Philippines:%20Results%20(executive%20summary).pdf