Children Babysitting Children
Yesterday, I posted a short blurb on how we found 4 small children playing unattended down at the beach. Because that post had a lot of attention, I felt it worthy of its own post here on this site, where I could expound more about the circumstances. We don’t usually do our walks during high tide, because there is little room to walk as the sandy beach is mostly covered. This day though, we walked the beach around a rocky outcropping formed long ago from an ancient lava flow. Here is where we came upon four children playing. The photo below was taken previously at a low tide event but keep in mind that at high tide, the sandy bottom is not visibly, mostly the rocks. The oldest was about 6 (maybe) and the two youngest ones were each around 3 years old. Here in the Philippines (as in many other parts of the world) it is commonplace for older children to care for their younger siblings and it is not unusual to see a 5 year-old babysitting their 2 year-old sibling. It’s rather cute actually to witness how a 5 year-old assumes this responsibility with all seriousness. But, not alone at the beach and this far from the village! When asked about where their parents were, the oldest child replied “at home.” Now, keep in mind this portion of this beach is completely out of sight from the village and the parents and should they be looking for their children, they could not be seen from the village “Sea Wall”, as it is called.
There are certain dangers with the incoming tide in that in some areas there can be strong undertow currents in tidal pools (strong to a three-year old anyway) as the waves come in and slide back out this time of year. In the area where the children were playing there are some large sharp rocks and boulders, and some at the water line which can be a little slick. A simple slip and a hit to the head and a fall into shallow water could easily result in a drowning. Kids have drowned here before. I seriously doubt whether small children could react quickly to another child having a fall. This area of the beach also borders the jungle away from the village, where who knows what these children could uncover, where snakes and nasty centipedes slither around and under rocks. Cobras, bamboo pit vipers, and the like. Then there are falling coconuts. It is estimated that every year about 150 people die as a direct cause of this. (Take note: the number of deaths from falling coconuts is ten times higher than the number of deaths from shark attacks each year.)
Now when I was young, we would play outdoors all day and mother would only begin to worry if we did not show up for lunch or supper. But I’m sure as I am here today, my mother didn’t let me wander when I was 2 years old, or even 3 years old. Once I began riding a bike is probably when she most likely lost track of me (or cut me loose – which wasn’t a good idea by the way). I can still remember once when learning to ride my bike ( I must have been around 4-5 years-old based on where we lived at the time), if I were to fall off, the only place I could get back on by myself was two blocks over on busy Cicero Avenue on Chicago’s south side. Cicero was 4 narrow lanes of heavy traffic with big trucks, busses and all that. It was also directly under the arriving flight path of big noisy airplanes landing at Chicago’s Midway airport just at the corner. The reason I had to go there was because the curb was high enough where I could mount my bike and still have one foot on the ground which would allow me to get started again. Why I can remember this I’m not sure – it just might have been the adventure of it all (or it might have been that one particular 18 wheeler with a very loud horn!). Many years later after reaching adulthood, I can remember telling my mother this and she was taken back with aghast. It was horror in retrospect! It was obvious that she had no idea of my whereabouts back then, similar to the children we found yesterday.
I guess even with all the similarities to the days of old in the western world, today it just proves the vast differences between the cultures here and in the west, and the times, then and now. In reality though, it is simply a level of ignorance to think that children this young could be safe on their own, with so many dangers, so far from home. It’s not that is a cultural difference so much as it is a huge difference in education and awareness. It is my honest opinion also that there is a certain level of ingrained ignorance about responsible adulthood and parenthood here, especially among the large low-income class population (and not so much in the upper and middle classes). Looking back, I’m sure my own mother was shocked to think she could let me wander off that far at such an early age.
While we were not all that surprised to find these children playing in the water and on the rocks, my wife though it was worthy of a little scolding and a stern suggestion to head back to the village…where they would be much safer. If there is one thing that can be said for neglecting the children here, the children mostly stay out of trouble, where neighbors keep an eye out, and most parents don’t have to worry about abductions. And that, I suppose, is one big relief.