February 2004 Newsletter
February 3, 2004 ·
Dear friends and defenders of children’s rights,
Our heartfelt thanks and prayers to all of you who have sent us messages of support, encouragement and donations over Christmas and the New Year. As our partners and defenders of children, we count you among our team and continue to go forward with the work of protecting and saving children and dealing with the root causes of abuse as we celebrate our 30th anniversary this February 22, 2004. Here is news about a few of the events that we are engaged in to end the abuse of children.
Teens Rescued From Sex Syndicate
On the first week of February, we were called to investigate what happened to two young sisters in their early teens. Their mother had sold them to a pimp in Manila who would prepare them for the international sex trade in Japan. The training preparation was to hire them out to the sex clubs around Metro Manila. There, they were sexually abused in the sex slave business. The mother received a regular payment for their services. We are not sure if she is the real mother. We were tipped off about it and went to find them. One was returned home as soon as the syndicate heard we were investigating. Eventually the PREDA rescue team traced the other sister to the sex club and from there to the boarding house of the pimp. We arrived early in the morning with the police. We found the young girl together with a dozen others, some who looked only thirteen. We had no evidence they were minors.
The police were inexperienced and were confused as what to do. The pimp was out but came rushing back, shouting and screaming about her legal rights! Our social worker took no nonsense and took the child and her clothes to the PREDA mini-bus and we took her and the police team away. We rescued the teenager we were looking for and both sisters are safely at PREDA overcoming the ordeal. We will soon file charges against the syndicate.
Another action against the sex industry hit the headlines when a former police officer from Northern Ireland was charged with recruiting children for his sex clubs in Angeles City from where we rescued children. While we are prosecuting an American and Australian and their pimps for their alleged crimes, the British suspect from Belfast was able to escape justice and had the charges against him mysteriously dropped. We protested to the Department of Justice in vain. The BBC Northern Ireland programme “Spotlight” came to the Philippines to report the story and did a great job uncovering the sex business catering to British and Irish sex tourists. They interviewed victims that we are protecting and helping.
Child Prisoners Being Released to PREDA’s New Home
We are very happy that the first child prisoners are being released at long last into the protection of the New PREDA Home prepared for them. We have worked hard with the prison authorities, the courts and in cooperation with the International Justice Mission to free the children. It is slow tedious work to get the judges to release them to us but attitudes are changing. Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Hiliardo Davide Jr., a compassionate person of integrity, supports our efforts. More will be released in the coming weeks from the filthy sub-human jails where they suffer terrible deprivation and shocking abuse. Some as young as 13 years old and jailed without trial for sniffing glue.
Lobbying for Social and Judicial Change
Since last December, we have intensified our lobbying for the children to be released. On December 10, International Human Rights Day, we organized a rally in Metro Manila to stop the detention of children and a hundred children marched with banners and placards to the Office of the Ombudsman. That day, five children filed a charge of Crimes Against Humanity naming President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her minister of the interior and head of the national police as respondents for violating the rights of the child by allowing them to be jailed and abused and their rights violated daily. Then we all marched to the Commission on Human Rights and demonstrated there chanting and singing for justice for children.
Failing Grades for the Philippine Commission on Human Rights
The head of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights Purificacion Quisumbing has never had time to talk to us or answer our letters or provide the information we requested. During the rally one commissioner invited a delegation of children and PREDA staff to talk about our demands for change. But until now, the commissioner and staff have failed to meet their promises. The Philippine Commission on Human Rights seems toothless and incompetent. It is more of a political tool than a protector of human rights. This was exposed when Fr. Shay highlighted the sub-human treatment and conditions of children in the Philippines in an alternative country report to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva last October. A delegate from the World Organization Against Torture in Geneva will visit the Philippines and together with PREDA and other NGOs, will visit Government officials in order to find out if the recommendations of the UN Committee are being implemented.
Opposing the Death Penalty
As part of this, we joined the other human rights organizations’ campaign against the death penalty and push for judicial and penal reforms. The death penalty was reimposed in January 1994 and we have opposed it ever since. There are as many as 994 people on death row in the Philippines waiting for execution by lethal injection. 28 of the 994 sentenced to death are women, 51 were professionals, 84 were businessmen, 585 were skilled workers, 14 semi-skilled and 31 were unemployed. 130 were office workers and 13 were former police. There are at least 8 minors on death row. They were sentenced to death even in the absence of any evidence indicating that they are of legal age. When minority is established, the court often fails to confirm or recognize the facts. The UN human rights committee in Geneva was aghast at this revelation.
We had another big rally in January when we marched against the detention of children and called for their release before the gates of the presidential palace. The children brought with them a bamboo cage and were inside to illustrate how they were jailed. Unfortunately, no one was listening at the palace but the media gave good news coverage on national television that night.
Winning Over the Street Children – Much Yet to do
The street child contact work is progressing and the project is providing non-formal education and hoping to expand in 2004 to include job creation or job training for the older boys so we can get them out from the street and help them earn a wage. The smaller children will be encouraged to go back to school. These homeless or abandoned children are organized and brought to the beach for picnics and value formation and awareness and empowerment building about their dignity and rights.
Jail Rescue Team Successes
Many visits have taken place to as many as 20 jails since December and 118 minors were found behind bars some in horrific conditions and the team succeeded in getting 45 released by persuading the complainant to drop charges or the judge to release the minor to the custody of parents. But some don’t have parents and will stay in jail for years unless we provide an alternative home where they can be sent and provide legal help to get the charges against them dismissed.
Life in the Therapeutic Community
The programme of “life and happiness” for the children at the PREDA Children’s Home for Girls is surging ahead day by day. There are now 55 children in the recovery center, all doing very well and several coming close to high school graduation this March. They are mature and empowered young ladies now having recovered from a past life of cruelty and abuse. They are very excited to have achieved an impossible dream to complete high school. They went to the high school prom ball last week dressed in gowns and had their hair styled no less. What a transformation from the frightened, beaten and cowering young girls rescued and brought to PREDA two years ago and now they are ready for a successful life.
The children participated in seminars and workshops. They had regular therapy sessions and family therapy and reconciliation when possible. We are forming a choir for the youth and children and they are singing beautifully. Soon we will record their songs and make a record for distribution. They go to the carnival, have parties, piano lessons, participate in theater training, attend Catechism, visit the Missionaries of Charity to care for the abandoned babies and join the rallies and marches for children’s rights. Their days are filled with activities that strengthen and empower them. They are then able to testify strongly and without fear in court against their abusers and build up their self-esteem and courage all the more.
Preventive Education Helps Stop Child Abuse
The preventive programme is also busy these days. There are seminars in schools and communities on the rights of children and how to prevent drug abuse among the youth and have a strong moral stand for the right to life. The PREDA team visits the schools and conducts these seminars where the students participate actively all day. They also will know how to prevent and report any abuse.
Fair Trade Fights Poverty
Poverty is the root cause of so many social evils, reducing it is our target too. The fair trade department is helping 23 producer groups and 12 cooperatives in remote parts of the Philippines to improve their production of crafts and production of tropical fruits.
These projects employ hundreds of people and families are prospering with the fair earnings that they get from their labors. It is aimed to counter sweat shops, child labor and the exploitation of the poor. The rural poverty is driving thousands of families to the city slums as migrants and they live in terrible conditions. There is no housing as land and property is unavailable. Those poorest of the poor live on the garbage dumps or along the streets. Their children are vulnerable to the pimps that pick them up and offer them to sex tourists local and foreign. The foreigners pay bigger money and are the target of the pimps. We want the farmers to remain in their villages and help them prosper in dignity.
The PREDA Fair Trade project gives interest free loans to farmers and craft producers and helps them beat the loan sharks. They are too poor to get loans from the banks. A PREDA designer helps them make quality products that are in demand and then they are marketed through the fair trade organizations in many countries. The producers get a fair price for their quality products and a share of the earnings. PREDA Fair Trade buys about 232, 000 tons of fresh mangos every year to make into dried mangos, drink and jams. These dried mangos, (also dried pineapples and other fruits) are exported to the World Shops across Europe and distributed in Japan too. The mango pulp is made into tropical drinks and juices.
The fair trade dried mango has a big impact on the local dried fruit industry here in the Philippines. With Profood, another partner it helps to control the creation of a buying cartel by the rich businesses designed to keep the farm gate prices depressed. At PREDA, we guarantee high prices to the farmers. The employees of the processing plant get the best conditions and wages and hundreds are employed most of the year. In harvest time, hundreds more of students get work in the plant. Buying fair trade products is what reduces poverty and bring prosperity to the poor. The PREDA chemical free dried mangos are in Sainsbury, Waitrose, Dunnes Stores, Super Quinn in the UK and Ireland and in World Shops across Europe.
A high yielding mango tree as big as an oak can support the education of a family of six children for a whole year and keep extra food on the table and the family together as well. Imagine those who have five or six trees, they do very well. PREDA supplies free mango saplings to the poor farmers every year, they mature in five to six years and produce fruit. This is one sure way to end poverty. Now, we are training the farmers to go 100% organic and qualify for certification internationally. Please call the supermarkets and ask for our dried mango under the “Forest Feast” brand.
Presently, the dried mangos of PREDA are practically organic as they are chemical free, no coloring or preservatives. Saving the child victims of sex tourism and abuse and imprisonment is a vital and important work that must be done but, preventing much of it through building just and fair trade and economic prosperity is just as important. That’s justice, that’s what we need most of all.
With every best wish,
Fr. Shay, the PREDA Team and the children